What comes across here is a reluctance on the part of Rahul to be open about his educational qualifications. As the author explains, “Rahul’s unwillingness to be open about his educational background is similar to the Gandhi family’s secrecy over Sonia Gandhi’s illness. Sonia and her family have been resolute in their silence on her medical condition despite speculation…that she is suffering from some kind of cancer…It can be argued that her health is a matter of public interest given that she is the de facto head of the Congress-led coalition government…In the same way Rahul Gandhi’s educational qualifications are of importance to the public at large as he is perceived to be a future prime ministerial candidate of the Congress and is a Member of Parliament.”
After Cambridge, Rahul Gandhi worked for three years with consulting firm Monitor in London. Strategy guru Michael Porter was one of the co-founders of the firm. Rahul was with Monitor from June 1996 to early March 1999. As Ramachandran writes, “According to sources who have known Rahul from his time at Monitor, there were no problems with his performance at the firm. He worked there under an assumed name and his colleagues did not know of his real identity, said a Monitor employee who was at the firm around the same time as Rahul. ‘His looks gave it away to those of us who knew who he could be,’ the source said.” But beyond this nothing is known about his key result areas or the sectors Rahul specialised in during his time at Monitor.
After quitting Monitor, Rahul came back to India to help his mother Sonia with the 1999 general election campaign. Once the elections were over Rahul disappeared from the political firmament. “There is no exact information about any other job Rahul might have taken up in the intervening years after he left Monitor in March 1999 and returned to India for good in late 2002,” writes Ramachandran.
During the time Rahul spent at London the media also discovered his girl friend Veronique (though they kept calling her Juanita). He was spotted with her watching an India-England cricket match at Edgbaston and holidaying with her in the Andamans at the end of 1999, and again in Kerala and Lakshadweep in 2003, for a year-end family vacation.
Rahul finally cleared the mystery himself in an interview to Vrinda Gopinath of the The Indian Express during the run-up to the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. As Ramachandran writes, “’My girlfriend’s name is Veronique not Juanita…she is Spanish and not Venezuelan or Colombian. She is an architect not a waitress, though I wouldn’t have had a problem with that. She is also my best friend,’ he told her…After he won from Amethi, he held a rare informal interaction with journalists in his constituency. They asked about his girlfriend’s nationality to which he replied she had been living in Venezuela for a long time although her parents were Spanish. He also said that he was not planning on getting married anytime soon.” Nothing has been heard of Veronique since 2004.
His years in consulting seem to have had a great impact on Rahul and since coming back to India in late 2002, Rahul has been trying to apply The Toyota Way on the functioning of the Congress party. The Toyota Way is a series of best practices used by Toyota Motor Company of Japan. As Ramachandran explains, “The Toyota Way spoke of making decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options and then implementing decisions rapidly…The consensus process, though time-consuming, helps broaden the search for solutions and once a decision is made, the stage is set for rapid implementation.”
Such strategic ideas are being used for the revamp and promotion of internal democracy within the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India. Processes are being built to ensure ending the role of family connections in appointments and promotions in the two organisations.
But the big question on everybody’s lips has been when will Rahul Gandhi join the government? This question has come up again as Manmohan Singh is said to be planning a cabinet reshuffle this month. In a controversial interview to the Tehelka magazine in September 2005, Rahul Gandhi is reported to have said that he could have become the Prime Minister at 25. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the then Congress spokesperson, later specifically mentioned that Rahul had not said ‘I could have been prime minister at the age of twenty-five if I wanted to’. Rahul hasn’t given any interview since then. (In 2010 he did give an interview to Varsity (Cambridge University's campus publication) in which he said "I am a lot less left wing than I was, for once thing").
On another occasion, Rahul said: “Please do not take it as any kind of arrogance, but having seen enough prime ministers in the family…it is not such a big deal. In fact, I often wonder why should you need a post to serve the nation”.
Rumours of Rahul Gandhi joining the cabinet in the next reshuffle have been doing the rounds lately. But as and when that happens Rahul Gandhi will have to let go of what seems like an unwillingness to be open.
People will analyse what he says. He may still not give interviews but as a minister he will surely have to make speeches, address meetings etc. His decisions will be closely watched. And the files he signs on will be open to RTI filings. In short, the mystery surrounding him will come down.
But Rahul is clearly overconscious and uncomfortable in public settings. As Ramachandran puts it, “In situations where he is required to speak, whether it is Parliament or his election speeches, he is uncomfortable. He is only now beginning to find his public speaking voice. For the most part, however, he has tended to avoid speaking in public or to the press on issues. He comes across as a politician who is reluctant to share his views on issues of national importance, or worse as someone who does not have views at all.”
Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org