Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s engagements with students at a school in Kochi on Monday were part of a well-calibrated campaign of the party to leverage Gandhi’s popularity in the poll-bound state, some party leaders have suggested.
Visuals of the former Congress president teaching Aikido, a Japanese martial art, at St Theresa school in Kochi were widely circulated on Monday.
In the two southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, both will vote on April 6, the Congress’s campaign strategy has shifted emphasis to local-level interactions, freewheeling sessions with targeted groups or sharing experiences with locals.
“Instead of asking people to come to meet Rahul Gandhi, he is going to them,” a senior party strategist involved in the campaign in the two states said, requesting anonymity.
The elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, West Bengal and Puducherry are crucial for the Congress after the party lost power in three states in the last three years due to internal conflicts. The Congress also faced defeats in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Ahead of the assembly polls, the Congress is trying out the campaign strategy in the two states where Gandhi remains a popular figure. The former Congress president represents Kerala’s Wayanad in Lok Sabha.
“90% of Gandhi’s campaign will revolve around small, roadside meetings, interactions with sub-local groups and students and roadshows. Large public rallies would be limited because we want to create images and moments which can go viral on social media. His speech might get lost in translation, but the images will remain for a long time,” said a second strategist who is currently based in Chennai, preferring anonymity.
On Tuesday, Gandhi held a meeting in the corner of a street at Paruthumpara in Kerala’s Kottayam, followed by three public meetings at Manarkadu, Ponkunnam and Pala.
Later in the day, receptions were held for him in Piravom and Kolencherry in Ernakulam and corner meetings at Muvattupuzha and Perumbavoor.
In the early days of the campaign, Gandhi danced with the students of St Joseph’s Matriculation Hr Sec School in Kanyakumari’s Mulagumudu. He also accepted a push-ups challenge by a student at the school. In Kerala, he also dived into the sea with some fishermen and helped a group of villagers cook mushroom biryani in Tamil Nadu.
“People are still talking about him cooking biryani. In the coming days, he would interact with coir mat makers and participate in their work. Lots of similar activities have been planned and a few more interaction with students will happen,” said the second strategist.
The party has also roped in local marketing agencies to circulate images of Gandhi’s campaign and attract media attention.