Even as the world speculates on what kind of enhanced role — in party of government — Rahul Gandhi will play from now on, nobody really knows what the heir-apparent (or is it apparent heir?) is all about. What he thinks, what he believes, and what he is as a person. Beyond cameo roles (Salman Khurshid’s choice of words was better when talking about Rahul than about Arvind Kejriwal), and occasional utterances (“I am your soldier in Delhi“, he told Orissa tribals in 2010), Rahul Gandhi has been a black box.
There are more questions than answers about Rahul. Where was he educated? Where did he work before joining politics full time? What are his views on various things? What does he think about the current state of the Indian economy? What does he think of the government which his mother Sonia runs through remote control? Does he have a girl friend? When does he plan to marry? Why hasn’t he given any interviews to the media since 2005?
These are questions both personal and professional that Indians would love to have answers for. Aarthi Ramachandran answers some of these questions in her new book Decoding Rahul Gandhi.
A small titbit: When Rahul was young he was afraid of the dark. He felt that darkness held ghosts and bad things. His grandmother Indira Gandhi helped him overcome that fear.
Ramachandran managed to glean this fact by listening to the man himself. “Speaking to young children at the opening of a science fair at a Delhi school in November 2010, he (i.e. Rahul) told them how he was scared of darkness when he was young as he felt it held “ghosts” and “bad things”. Then, he said, one day his grandmother had asked him why he didn’t go and see himself what was inside the darkness. So, he had walked into the garden in the dark and he had kept walking and then realised suddenly that ‘there was nothing there in the darkness to be scared of’.” And thus Rahul overcame the fear of darkness and ghosts.
After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, both Rahul and his sister Priyanka were largely taught at home. Ramachandran quotes from Sonia Gandhi’s book Rajiv: “The day of my mother-in-law’s assassination was the last day Rahul and Priyanka ever attended school…For the next five years the children remained at home, studying with tutors, virtually imprisoned. The only space outside our four walls where they could step without cordon of security was our garden,” Sonia wrote.
Rahul is a year and a half older to his sister Priyanka and was a student of the St Columbia’s school before the assassination of his grandmother. But both Rahul and Priyanka ended up in the same class despite their age difference. “Rahul’s education was disrupted due to that incident (Indira Gandhi’s assassination) and he dropped a year of school, possibly the same year that Indira died. Rajiv was asked how both Rahul and Priyanka were in the same class during an interview in 1988. “Only one year separates them. And with all the shifting, they came to be in the same class. But that has one advantage: they can be taught each subject by the same tutor. Now, we can’t possibly keep separate tutors for each of them, that would be too expensive,” he quipped — both children were being home tutored, writes Ramachandran.
Rahul joined Delhi’s St Stephens College in 1989 to study history. He got admission under the sports quota. And there was a lot of controversy surrounding his admission. As Ramachandran points out, “When Rahul entered Delhi’s prestigious St Stephen’s College in 1989 after finishing his schooling, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed his admission, under the sports quota for his skills in rifle shooting, was invalid. The allegation appeared to be that with 61 percent marks in his school-leaving examinations, Rahul was not academically bright enough to enter the college. The BJP’s Delhi chief at that time, Madam Lal Khurana, claimed that Rahul’s certificates in shooting were fake.” The National Rifle Association came to Rahul’s rescue issuing a statement in his favour about his ability as a rifle shooter. During Rahul’s time at Stephens, 20-25 Special Protection Group (SPG) guards would be all over the college with sling bags which supposedly had guns.
After a year at Stephens, Rahul left for Harvard. There is very little clarity on the period he was at Harvard or the subjects he studied there. “It has been widely reported in the Indian media and some foreign publications that Rahul took courses in economics at Harvard,” writes Ramachandran. “Neither Rahul nor Harvard officials have confirmed this. Rahul did not respond to questions about this course of study and the time period he was at Harvard….Harvard too said it could not disclose details about Rahul Gandhi’s time at Harvard.”
Harvard did confirm that Rahul was a student, but didn’t get into the specifics of the time period or the courses he attended. In May 1991 Rahul’s father, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. This compelled him to take a transfer to Rollins College in Florida and from here he graduated with a BA in 1994. The website of the college lists him as alumnus who graduated in International Relations.
After this, Rahul went for an M Phil in developmental studies from Cambridge University, in the United Kingdom. There has been some controversy surrounding this as well. “In the run up to the 2009 general elections…The New Indian Express alleged that Rahul had not only got the name of his course wrong but also the year. The paper said he had attended the course only in 2004-05. It produced a certificate from the university as evidence of its claim. Rahul…sent a notice to the newspaper….With the notice was a letter issued by Cambridge University…in which its vice chancellor…clarified that Rahul was a student at Trinity College from October 1994 to July 1995. She also said that he was awarded M Phil in developmental studies in 1995,” writes Ramachandran.