Whenever the government in Delhi is confronted with a crisis-and these have been bimonthly affairs ever since the showpiece Commonwealth Games of 2010 became a tale of scandalous mismanagement-Twitter has been abuzz with an inevitable question: where is Rahul Gandhi? It’s a question that can rarely be definitively answered.
whenever the government in Delhi is confronted with a crisis-and these have been bimonthly affairs ever since the showpiece Commonwealth Games of 2010 became a tale of scandalous mismanagement-Twitter has been abuzz with an inevitable question: where is Rahul Gandhi? It’s a question that can rarely be definitively answered.
Two biographies have been written about the 42-year-old vice president and heir apparent of India’s ruling Congress party. Common to both books is a curious omission: neither author interviewed or interacted with the subject, a member of Parliament whose name is often prefaced with the words “youth icon.” The Gandhis are special. The normal rules of politics don’t apply to the family. India’s democracy is chaotic and spiritedly argumentative, and the media are fiercely competitive, deeply divided on political and ideological lines, and modestly irreverent. At the same time, the incessant questioning, hectoring, and even insolence stops at the door of the Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi chairperson of the Congress party, rarely subjects attendance herself to interrogation (unless it is carefully prescripted), and questioning her son, Rahul, invariably results in a polite brushoff
Rahul enjoys the highest level of security available-on par with the prime minister. Yet, queries
about his movements under the Right to Information Act are routinely declined on grounds of “security.” The point is, Rahul chooses not to get his hands dirty. This Christmas, Delhi exploded in spontaneous anger over a horrific gang rape that led to the death of the victim. There were protests that led to a bewildered police force using tear gas and water cannons. The mood soon turned antipoliti- cal, and there was resentment against the government’s emphasis on VIP security and its neglect of the safety of ordinary people. Politicians skulked inside their protected bungalows, afraid to engage with the angry youngsters who spearhead¬ ed the protests. The more clever among them expressed their sympathy through ritualized soundbites on TV, and Sonia Gandhi, it is said, met with a delegation.
But Rahul was nowhere to be seen. His office issued a written condolence message after the rape victim died, but there wasn’t a TV message. The reason soon became obvious: Rahul had checked out for the new year.
It seems to have become an entrenched impression: Rahul Gandhi is a dilettante whose personal calendar takes priority over politics. He hasn’t intervened on any of the subjects that preoccupy the country: the economy, Kashmir, or Pakistan, to name a few. His attendance record in Parliament is pathetic. He is a part-time politician.
Last Sunday, in response to a choreographed demand from the youth wing of the Congress party, Rahul was appointed vice president of the party. In effect, this formalized his status as the heir to his mother. It is more than likely that in the general election (due in the spring of 2014), Rahul will be put forward as the leader of the Congress party.
Rahul’s scripted acceptance speech showed an uncharacteristic cleverness. Rather than defend a beleaguered government, he went on a no-holds-barred offensive against an iniquitous, centralized, and fossilized “system” that had prevented India from reaching its full potential. He harped on “change” and promised to empower the able while protecting the weak. And, just in case anyone imagined he was disparaging his great-grandfather, grandmother, and parents (all of whom, bar his mother, were prime ministers of India), he gave his speech a mushy family touch. In fact, he described the Congress party as the “world’s biggest family.”
By the time it was over, the Congress leaders were ecstatic. “It’s our Obama moment,” gushed one voluble Cambridge-educated socialist.
Did the coddled scion rise to the occasion? Or was he merely dedicating himself to India until the next break overseas? Was it the idealism of a troubled soul, or the cynicism of an inheritor anxious to cling to the family estate called India? Next year, Indians will decide whether change has to be accompanied with dynastic continuity. The voters will, hopefully, provide the answers