Congress' new strategy: TV debates are important, topics less so

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New Delhi:  The Congress may not have a slogan or tagline yet for the national elections, but its version of 'Mad Men' has begun work on how the party will be marketed for the national election.

The new Communications Department, created two weeks ago, is clear that it will not respond to attempts from the main Opposition party, the BJP, to brand the election as a choice between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.

Instead, a meeting on Wednesday concluded that Congress spokespersons who appear on nightly television debates will steer the conversation away from personalities and towards landmark  reforms like its current attempt to legally entitle nearly 70% of the country to subsidized food.

For months, there has been talk of whether the Congress can risk projecting Mr Gandhi, 42, as the face of its campaign. Two back-to-back terms in power make anti-incumbency a likely challenge. An array of corruption scandals and an economic slowdown will make selling the party tougher. An unsuccessful bid will allow the Opposition to claim that Mr Gandhi brings little more to his party than the hefty weight of his last name.

Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury said the media is reading between lines that it is scripting. "It was never like this anyway. We have no issues about who is compared to who. We have no insecurities or doubts. You are the ones who always hype it up anyway," she said.

Till earlier this month, the Congress had a "media cell." It was rechristened the "Communications Department" and Ajay Maken, a senior leader from Delhi and former Union minister, was chosen as its head. The new ensemble of spokespersons includes Priyanka Chaturvedi, columnist, blogger and district general secretary, Mumbai Youth Congress, and Rajeev Gowda, a professor from the prestigious business school, IIM-Bangalore.

Facebook and Twitter, to which the BJP was a relatively early adapter, can expect TLC  from the Congress. Press conferences will be streamed live on the party's website.

A research team will furnish facts and figures for television debates to spokespersons. The party has reportedly decided that it will now assign representatives to prime-time debates irrespective of the topic being discussed, a rationale loosely summed up as "better to have some say than no say."

Sources in the Congress say that the party was impressed, even if reluctantly, by how BJP president Rajnath Singh held daily briefings with his spokespersons during the recent crisis triggered by LK Advani's hi-def resistance to the promotion of Narendra Modi as the campaign chief.
 

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