Over the years, Narendra Modi evolved a signature campaign style, visiting temples, distributing masks, addressing huge meetings, well packaged and event managed, and involving a ‘dialogue’ with the masses, all of which force-multiplied his reach and propelled him and the BJP from Gandhinagar to New Delhi.

But in the last few weeks, the Prime Minister’s arch-rival, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, has taken a leaf out of Modi’s style during electioneering in Gujarat, in an attempt to revive the Grand Old Party (GOP). In fact, Gujarat may have become a laboratory for Rahul to fully evolve as a serious and responsible leader!

The Congress leader, in an attempt to beat Modi at his own game, has visited more than 15 major temples while criss-crossing the State. His campaigning has often been low-profile, and he has been trying to engage the cheering audience during his Navsarjan Yatras in a question-answer session. Like the BJP, which has been distributing Modi masks since 2007, the Congress has also now come up with masks of its leader.

Positive campaign

But the similarities end there. Rahul has directed his party leaders to run a “positive” campaign in the State and refrain from ballistics and allegations. And, unlike Modi’s mega-events and flamboyance, Rahul’s campaigning has often been restrained, focused on interacting with people along the way than addressing big audiences, although crowds have increasingly flocked to hear him tear into the BJP and its rule. With fine-tuned and restrained ‘exposure’, he has been trying to scrap the BJP’s ‘mystique’.

Also, Rahul has also admitted to lacking Modi’s oratorial skills and reminded the audience in Surat about this: “It will take a few more years for me to talk like Modi ji .”

Surprises galore

His three-day-long, whistle-stop Yatras across the four regions of Gujarat, have been full of ‘surprises’. He allowed youth to click selfies with him; he was seen alighting at Vadodara airport like a common passenger with a laptop bag on his shoulder; he freely mingled with the people, even a magician, and also tried his hand at musical instruments; he allowed priests to apply vermillion on his forehead, even on a podium, as he worshipped at different temples; he ate at local stalls and dhabas ; and he addressed small, roadside meetings, interacted with students and children.

Clearly, Rahul has tried to adopt Modi’s ways and, at the same time, tried to present himself as a ‘different’ leader. Modi has not been able to mingle this way with Gujarat’s crowds for years, perhaps due to security reasons.

Muslims ignored

But the Nehru-Gandhi scion has kept away from Muslim shrines while trying to ‘appease’ the Hindus, the minority community has taken note of this. On Wednesday, posters appeared in Surat, announcing: “No tickets to Muslims, no votes.”

Meanwhile, Rahul’s social media campaign has livened up to match the BJP’s campaign: his tweets have generated interest, his videos are going viral, and his sound-bytes have been heard with rapt attention. It remains to be seen if his efforts actually revive the Gujarat Congress, which has been virtually comatose in the last 22 years of BJP rule.