While Rahul slept

The genius columnist Art Buchwald won a Pulitzer Prize for a compilation of his articles in a book called While Reagan Slept. The sharp stinging articles documented how America watched President Reagan’s inattentiveness, his long vacations, his sleeping through cabinet meetings, forgetfulness and lack of grip over issues and yet nobody lost hope that he would snap out of it.

When George H W Bush became President he promised America, he would be “wake me, shake me” president. In 2008, Hillary Clinton ran the famous ‘3 am red phone’ advertisement, promising America that she would be there to take crisis calls any time of the night and she would make those crucial decisions expected out of a head of state.

Since the son is missing, so the mother steps in for him. Sonia Gandhi is meeting with farmers who are worried about the land acquisition ordinance, it is she who met with train accident victims, and it is she who led the united opposition march to the President House. File pic
Since the son is missing, so the mother steps in for him. Sonia Gandhi is meeting with farmers who are worried about the land acquisition ordinance, it is she who met with train accident victims, and it is she who led the united opposition march to the President House. File pic

Why do we need our leaders to be alert and awake while we sleep? Why do photographs and news items of leaders on long luxurious vacations bother us? Do they not have the right to take a break? Well, logically yes. They lead far more stressful lives than we do. Imagine their futures rest not so much in their own capabilities, as their ability to convince us, the voters, about their effectiveness in doing their job.

So when Rahul Gandhi disappears indefinitely from the scene of action, everybody rightfully questions where he is, when he should be leading his party since he is the party’s vice president. His mother, the Congress president, we heard, was going to hand over the reins of the party to the heir apparent. But he is not here. And cryptically she said, “You will know where Rahul is once he returns”.

Since the son is missing, so the mother steps in for him. Sonia Gandhi is leading from the front. She is meeting with farmers who are worried about the land acquisition ordinance, it is she who met with train accident victims, and it is she who led the united opposition march to the President House. She is reinventing herself yet again. As we have seen in the last two decades, you can never write off this lady. Whereas about the son, the lesser said the better.

One parent of his is a Catholic. His sister is married to a Christian. If the Christian community is feeling threatened, you would think that Rahul would naturally step up to speak on their behalf. Even if he didn’t have Christian relatives, Rahul should have been at the forefront on behalf of religious minorities whose cause has supposedly always been at the core of his party’s ideology.

Congress party seems to have rejected Rahul’s management style. It has gone back to the old style, which worked for the party in 2004 and 2009, even if it was rejected at other times at the hustings. Some in the party are overjoyed that the extended absence of Rahul has spurred Sonia Gandhi into political activism. Somehow, Sonia Gandhi seems to be more here and now than her recalcitrant and reluctant son.

While speaking on radio on Sunday, the Prime Minister reassured farmers, “mai aapko vishwas dilaata hun, aapne mujhko jo likha hai, mai puri sarkar ko daudaunga, kaam par lagaunga.” Now here is a man promising to get his government work at break-neck speed. Do the people expect it from him? Yes. Do they believe that his government will respond? Skeptical at best. Indians have come to believe that every government is slothful, regardless of which political party comes to power. Although only time will tell whether he will succeed, Modi is at least trying to dispel that notion.

In comparison, Rahul does not seem to be even trying. And that is most frustrating to watch. Who would give up on the opportunity to lead the oldest political party in the country and be able to change the course of history? He doesn’t need to be like Modi or Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi. He can learn from so many from within his own party and outside on how to be a good, solid opposition leader. How can a young(?) politician in India not be impatient to bring about changes?

Those who blame Rahul’s advisors for his political ineptness forget that it is the leader who chooses his advisors. He has had enough time after the 2014 Lok Sabha results to make changes. The fact that he hasn’t shows that either he is too timid, indecisive or worse not willing to see the obvious, as yet.

The way politics is in India, the Gandhis will always get enough chances to get back into the game. He will be back. Hopefully with better ideas on what he wants to do with his party and play the role of a responsible leader in the parliament.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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