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With BJP’s ‘Saddam’ Jibe at Rahul, How Does A Beard Affect A Politician’s Face Value?

A good beard is a great companion. It can make a man look older and even more serious, according to a widely held belief.

Observers say that the often labelled “non-serious, part-time politician” Rahul Gandhi does appear serious and determined with his bearded look.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra began with a clean-shaven Rahul. As the yatra progressed and gained traction, the clean-shaven look was slowly given a miss. And now he sports a fairly well-grown salt-and-pepper beard. Not that it’s the first time he has donned an unshaven look. Periodically he has, but it’s been a very brief one: both the look and the beard.

But now many in the Congress are keen to know, why the beard? Will it help? Says political strategist Dilip Cherian, “A beard can work if it’s followed up with groundwork. Only a beard cannot do enough to win an election.”

But those close to Rahul Gandhi say the yatra and the look have nothing to do with polls. It’s just something he is comfortable with, according to them. But there are two things the bearded look can do for Rahul Gandhi.

First, it makes him look serious and determined. And angry. To take on the BJP. Rahul Gandhi has said that the yatra is to reach out to the people as the BJP has cut off all channels of communication.

Second, many said that the yatra would just end up being a picnic. And would be non-serious and not complete. But the look makes Rahul Gandhi seem determined to complete the yatra, and also he begins at 6 am daily. It also cuts the luxurious life and style Rahul Gandhi is associated with. A beard, and an unkempt one, gives the impression of “not having time to indulge in dressing up or looking good”.

Behind such “carefully cultivated” looks is often a strategy. Like when once Aaditya Thackeray walked into a meeting wearing a t-shirt and jeans, few said he can’t be the heir of Uddhav as he looked like a college kid. Then came the makeover. He was dressed up in a pastel shirt and formal trousers and wore thin-rimmed glasses. He looked business-like, mature yet appealing to the young.

The same was the case with Abhishek Banerjee before he became the national general secretary of the Trinamool Congress. Gone were his chubby cheeks. He looked fit and wore crisp kurta pyjamas. He had the look, said his supporters.

Observers point out that Congress’s Karnataka CM hopeful DK Shivakumar is also sporting a beard these days.

But the epitome of dressing in style to make a political message was Indira Gandhi then and PM Narendra Modi now. Both are known to dress well and thoughtfully. Both kept the traditional and local styles in mind while visiting states.

Remember, PM Modi also grew his beard during the West Bengal elections. Some would compare him to Rabindranath Tagore and say the look was inspired to woo the Bengalis who swear by the bard. At that time, Rahul had tweeted to take a dig at the PM, saying, “Chor ki dadhi…”

But Rahul Gandhi’s beard has now grown to become political. Like when Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said Rahul looks like Saddam Hussein. This prompted very strong reactions from the Congress, which called it condemnable.

Not that Rahul Gandhi does not have the time to shave. He takes time out to exercise. So the bearded look is deliberate. But will the journey from stubble to beard also cover the setbacks the party has received at the polls? Easier to grow a beard, tougher to win elections, with a clean shave.

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