They are key campaigners of their parties for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi have their individual styles of connecting with the masses. If the Congress scion 's speeches appear sober and workmanlike, though he lately appears to be upping the ante, the BJP strongman comes across as combative and hard-hitting. One of them could be the country's prime minister next year.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, 63, the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has undoubted oratorical skills that he uses to hit hard at his opponents and strike a chord with his audience, as he did in no uncertain terms at his rally in the national capital late last month.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, 43, had appeared benign in his speeches as compared to Modi - till Wednesday when he was at his combative best at his rallies at Aligarh and Rampur. Seen as a future prime minister by Congressmen, although he is unlikely to be named the prime ministerial candidate of the party as such, Gandhi had till now been circumspect in attacking the party's adversaries in his election meetings.
Gandhi, who had avoided naming opposition parties or their leaders , minced no words on Wednesday in tearing into the BJP and the Samajwadi Party for last month's riots in Muzaffarnagar that claimed almost 60 lives and rendered thousands homeless.
On Friday, he appeared to be making amends for tearing into an ordinance that sought to shield convicted parliamentarians and legislators by terming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh his "guru".
Hitherto, the young leader had sought to identify himself and his party with the dreams of the poor, youth and the aspiring classes in his speeches in Udaipur and Baran (in Rajasthan), Delhi and Jagdalpur.
"We want that the poorest of the poor are able to see the biggest dream. We want women should be able to see biggest dreams. Otherwise there is no interest in politics for us," Rahul Gandhi said at Baran.
Gandhi's speeches have been short compared to those of Modi. In making his points directly and clearly, Gandhi has focussed on the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's welfare measures, particularly the food and land legislations, to show that the ruling coalition is on the side of the poor and the weak.
"There are two kinds of ideologies at present. The Congress thinks about empowering the people. We want to empower the middle class, the adivasis, the tribals because we realize their strength. But the opposition thinks the opposite," Gandhi said at Jagdalpur.
Cheerful and earnest in approach, Gandhi has been employing anecdotes in his speeches to forge a better connect with his audiences. Gandhi's arrival at and departure from the stage is marked by an eager waving of hands to the gathering and a ready smile.
At Gandhi's rally in Baran district last month, the people patiently waited for hours in the scorching heat to listen to him. "Rahul Gandhi is an educated youth who will take the country on the path to progress. He will watch the interests of the poor," said Satnarayan Bundia, a local farmer.
Assembly elections will be held in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram later this year. The Lok Sabha elections are to be held by April-May 2014.
Modi has in his rallies sought to strike an emotional bond by recollecting his personal association with the states that have hosted his rallies. He has addressed major rallies this month at Ambikapur, Jaipur, Rewari, Bhopal and Tiruchirappalli (Tamil Nadu) apart from Delhi and has touched on a range of issues including inflation, terrorism, diplomacy, economy, corruption, poverty and national security.
In his rallies which have attracted sizeable crowds including youth, Modi has sought to engage by asking questions, raising slogans and sometimes making light-hearted remarks. Modi's speeches have references to history, customs or culture to draw interest of the audience.
"The neighbours are troubling us. It is due to weakness of the armed forces. The problem is not on the borders but in Delhi. The problem is in Delhi. We have to find solutions in Delhi," Modi said at his rally in Rewari .
Unsparing in his attack on the Congress, Modi apparently takes care to deliver lines that are easy for the media to turn into headlines.
"The Congress is not going to put up its candidates (in the forthcoming polls). The Congress does not have the capacity to fight the BJP. They have fielded the CBI," Modi said at the rally in Bhopal Sep 25.
Modi normally begins his rallies with "Bharat mata ki jai (Hail mother India)" and also asks people to repeat "vande mataram" after him.
The response of the crowd at Rewari, not considered a BJP stronghold, surprised Modi's critics. The audience was eager to listen to him.
Analysts said that there was a vast difference in campaign styles and approaches of Modi and Gandhi, but it was too early to speak in terms of outcome of the Lok Sabha polls.
Aditya Mukherjee, a professor at the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru Universty, said that Modi had a style similar to that of a demagogue and rabble rouser. "In my opinion, it is the perfect style of a fascist. Personal attacks, innuendos, rumours," he said.
He said that Gandhi's style "was very subdued, not individual based" and there was no self-projection.
"More than style, we should focus on the content. Whether one's views are different from the idea of India," Mukherjee told IANS.
Gandhi, he said, "for all his flaws, was still with the idea of India" and Modi was a polarizing figure.
Political commentator and senior journalist S. Nihal Singh said that the contrast between Gandhi and Modi could not be starker.
"On the one hand is a consummate politician pressing the right buttons depending on the audience and, on the other hand, is a somewhat distracted politician who seems to ramble on with his narrative," Nihal Singh said.
He said Rahul Gandhi does not seem to vibe with the audiences and appears to be someone who thinks aloud.
Nihal Singh said Modi's oratorical skills will help the BJP but it was difficult to say if presence of people at his rallies will translate into votes. "There are other factors involved," Nihal Singh told IANS.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)