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BJP’s ‘Project Pappu’ Crumbles as Real Rahul Gandhi wows global audiences

Has the Congress turned the BJP’s ‘Project Pappu’ on its head and now reaping the benefits of the terrific brand recall of the campaign that lampooned Rahul Gandhi as a bumbling fool for over two decades? The people began to discover Rahul Gandhi who is exactly the opposite of the image crafted by the BJP, […]

Edited By : Lakshmana | Updated: Jun 7, 2023 20:04 IST
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Rahul Gandhi

Has the Congress turned the BJP’s ‘Project Pappu’ on its head and now reaping the benefits of the terrific brand recall of the campaign that lampooned Rahul Gandhi as a bumbling fool for over two decades? The people began to discover Rahul Gandhi who is exactly the opposite of the image crafted by the BJP, as more and more of them are getting attracted to him as witnessed during the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi

A fascinatingly interesting battle of brands and perception building – ‘Pappu Vs Gappu’ — is playing out in the political landscape of the country but on foreign soil for the moment.

The recent visit of the ‘disqualified MP’, former Congress president and private citizen Rahul Gandhi to the United States and his participation in various events seems to have done one thing – to puncture and destroy the ‘Project Pappu of the BJP and its ecosystem that successfully lampooned the Congress leader as a bumbling fool.

Now the same ‘Pappu’ seems to have queered the pitch for Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he arrives in Washington on a state visit, to be hosted by President Joe Biden later this month. He is scheduled to attend a series of US government programmes aimed at strengthening Indo-US ties in different fields.

What Rahul Gandhi has done is to project and paint a picture of Prime Minister Modi and the current state of politics and democracy in India that puts the ruling party of the country in a bad light, targeting the carefully crafted image of the Prime Minister as a democrat and a global leader.

Rahul Gandhi has also dared the PM to take questions from the people, something that the Prime Minister is yet, and yet to hold a single press conference since he took over as the head of the government in 2014.

Incidentally, Prime Minister Modi is uncharitably referred to as Gappu – a person who makes false claims and promises. This capability of Rahul Gandhi in triggering a perception battle – Pappu Vs Gappu – is something that the BJP may not have bargained for, perhaps believing in the success of its Project Pappu, and forgetting that it was a false perception it built against the Congress leader with the help of media, clever strategies and utterances from deceitful Congress leaders.

Today, the entire BJP ecosystem is out protesting and mounting a vicious attack against the one man they dismissed as a “person of no consequence” all these years.

Now that Project Pappu is seeming to boomerang – with questions now being raised as to who the real Pappu is – the BJP may begin to wonder if it had handed over a potent weapon to the Congress, as it seems to be benefitting from the terrific brand recall of the object of the BJP’s most expensive media project to date. The mere mention of the word Pappu brings the image of a smiling Rahul Gandhi to the minds of the masses.

A veteran scribe and now a perception strategist Raj Narayan is sure that Brand Pappy is the best gift the BJP could have given to Congress and Rahul Gandhi, something that brand consultants also feel as they are seeing the tide being smartly turned around. “Of course, electoral gains are still a far cry, but the brand recall is top-notch,” he says summing up the changing perception about Rahul Gandhi’s image as he goes about engaging with the best minds at the top-notch American institutes of higher learning. Places and events that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has so far chosen to avoid, where the stress is on dialogue rather than colourful oratory that he is immensely strong on.

Some analysts are seeing in Rahul Gandhi’s US trip, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit, hosted by President Joe Biden, an attempt to queer the pitch.

Has Congress managed to deflate Project Pappu already? 

What is more, the Congress may not only have blunted the efficacy of Project Pappu by presenting Rahul Gandhi as a person who is intelligent, approachable, genial, full of charm and with a sense of humour but also the Congress is in the process of turning the Project Pappu on its head and use it to its own advantage.

The ruling BJP, in the meanwhile, continue their focus on Rahul Gandhi, ironically helping to generate media coverage for Rahul Gandhi and his party for which they would have to spend a lot of money. Of course, the BJP’s intention is to portray Rahul Gandhi in a poor and negative light, in tune with the “Pappu” image they worked so hard to create.

But it now seems this element of their campaign has begun to falter and deliver the desired results. With people beginning to see the real Rahul Gandhi – all through the recently held Bharat Jodo Yatra, speeches, and during his many press conferences in India and abroad – Project Pappu has begun to show diminishing returns for the BJP.

Incidentally, after BJP faced drubbing Himachal Pradesh elections, TMC leader Mahua Moitra lambasted the BJP and its leader JP Nadda in parliament asking them who the real Pappu now was. She also quoted statistics released by the central government to question the BJP on the poor handling or mishandling of the economy and again questioned them as to who the real Pappu was.

“This government and the ruling party coined the term Pappu. You use it to denigrate and signify extreme incompetence. But the statistics tell us who the actual Pappu is,” she said to criticise the mishandling of the economy. On BJP’s loss in the home state of its president JP Nadda, Moitra said, “He could not hold on to his home state.

Who is the Pappu now?” 

Brand builders and perception management professionals now see a chance for Congress to turn Project Pappu on its head and use the brand recall and people’s awareness for the benefit of Rahul Gandhi.

Dilip Cherian, communications consultant, and political campaign advisor, sees in such a move good business sense and super normal returns at a fraction of the cost if Congress were to think of using Project Pappu for its benefit. “But for doing this, one needs to turn the negative from the lampooning campaign into humour, and then turn it into a positive. If you can do this, then you have an advantage,” Cherian said warming up to the idea.

This is a three-step process, you to have convert from a negative rant or a connotation into a fun connotation or humour, and then into a positive connotation and this requires a lot of effort. But the benefits can be huge. Say for example if the BJP has spent Rs 100 for the Project Pappu, you need to spend anywhere between Rs 20 to Rs 25 to do the three-stage process, but you will get the benefit (return) of the Rs 125.

It is a three-stage process, you must convert negative to funny, and from funny to humorous it needs to turn into positive, Cherian said citing an example saying, Pappu Pass Ho Gaya, then Pappu becomes the humour and pass hogaya becomes positive. This is the core of the process. This has been done in the corporate sphere, but one needs time.

An example from the corporate sector is how when KFC was launched, it was running headlong against Tandoori Chicken. The campaign, Cherian said, was to dub KFC as Tandoori Chicken ka Naya Avataar- to turn KFC into a funny thing as Tandoori Chicken and played into the positive. But it takes time.

Does Congress have time in his view? 

The Congress, he said, has two elections to win — Either Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh or Rajasthan. If it does that, it can turn it into a positive connotation Because Karnataka it has already won.

Bangalore-based branding expert who has worked with the top domestic and international brands, Sridhar Ramanujam, felt that saying something like “Pappu for PM” may work for Congress but it would need a very sharp communications mind to draw benefit from the super brand recall the word Pappu has, and be skilful enough to turn the campaign around.

Yes, the BJP has systematically destroyed Rahul Gandhi’s image and he is nowhere like that. He sure is a fellow who is smart, vicious and has an agenda of his own. But the BJP campaign has successfully built the perception around him that everything about him was negative and that he was an incompetent and entitled dynast.

Although no official estimates are available, the BJP and the media ecosystem it has created, have spent hundreds of crores of Rupees over the past many years to create an impression in the minds of the people that Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Gandhi-Nehru family, was “a non-serious, good for nothing, part-time politician.”

Such was and is its efficacy that the mere mention of the word Pappu would draw derisive and dismissive laughter, a dangerous public response to live with if you are a competitive politician.

Now this entire brand recall can work to the benefit of Congress.

Also Read: Wrestlers’ fight for justice in Delhi rekindles a similar battle in Tamil Nadu

First published on: Jun 07, 2023 04:27 PM IST

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