It is difficult to see how Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party’s heir apparent and putative candidate for the prime ministership if the party is ever in a position to form a government, can ever be thought of as a responsible leader.
With a presidential election now underway, he suddenly disappears to meet his “grandmother and family for a few days.” His ailing mother was left to do the job of countering the National Democratic Alliance’s candidate all by herself.
In March, after the Congress party was routed in Uttar Pradesh, he took off to visit his mother, who reportedly went abroad for a check-up to an unspecified destination.
Again, after breathing fire over demonetisation during November and December last year, just when the deadline for demonetisation was about to end on 31 December, he disappeared for a New Year holiday abroad with this breezy statement: “I will be travelling to Europe for a few days. A very Happy New Year to everyone.”
In September 2015, there was much disbelief when it was announced that Rahul would be attending a conference in Aspen. It was only when a picture showing his attendance was tweeted that anyone was willing to suspend disbelief. So much for his credibility.
The worst disappearance – a huge 56-day sabbatical – came in early 2015 when the crown prince went missing, leaving the party in disarray over its parliamentary strategy. This was the time when the NDA rammed many of its key bills on coal auctions and foreign direct investment in insurance through.
While his mother, who is widely believed to have an ailment that requires frequent trips abroad, can be forgiven for her disappearances, one wonders how Rahul can be considered a serious politician if he believes he can slip away without telling the country where he is going most of the time.
But even Sonia Gandhi is not blameless in this regard. In 2011, she went abroad for treatment, but no details were given to the public about what was afflicting her or where she was going for treatment. It was left to the media to speculate about both.
The issue here is not about respecting the privacy of the individual. Nobody is barging into their living rooms or bedrooms to check what they are doing in their private time.
But in Sonia’s case, since she was the real power behind the throne from 2004 to 2014, did the country not deserve to know what she was ailing from or how it was being treated?
In the United States (US), the media and the public do not take kindly to politicians who keep their health issues under wraps. In the recent presidential election, rumours about Hillary Clinton’s health were campaign issues, and it was only the media’s active dislike of Donald Trump that prevented it from becoming a negative in her case.
A politician who misdeclares his health status or hides his medical status has little chance of making it to office in the US, but in India we treat the health of the high and mighty, people on whom the country depends for leadership, like a state secret.
In NDA-1, the Bharatiya Janata Party took umbrage when a foreign magazine speculated about Atal Behari Vajpayee’s health – but it was the right thing to do. It is interesting that Vajpayee went into a deep health crisis very soon after his defeat in 2004. One wonders what kind of leadership he could have given if he had won, if, as Time magazine suggested in 2002, “he takes a three-hour snooze every afternoon on doctor's orders and is given to interminable silences, indecipherable ramblings and, not infrequently, falling asleep in meetings.”
As far as Rahul in concerned, he too has been caught snoozing in Parliament more than once (see here and here), but even if we consider those occasions to be aberrations, the question remains. As the effective leader of the country’s main opposition party, isn’t it unfair to the nation if he can vanish for days or even weeks with no one being told what he is up to? It is perfectly all right for leaders in high-stress situations to take a vacation, but do leaders with little to do need so many breaks?
It is surprising that the mainstream media, which makes such a big deal about its lack of access to a 24x7 Prime Minister, asks no questions about a political dilettante who wields so much power without displaying an iota of the responsibility that should come with the job.
During the United Progressive Alliance regime, Sonia had power without responsibility. In opposition, her son displays irresponsibility of a high degree.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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