So, Dijvijaya Singh thinks it is time for Rahul Gandhi to take over as Prime Minister. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? The statement about the time being ripe for Rahul says more about Diggi Raja than the Gandhi scion, given his perceived status of being political mentor to the dynasty. Singh is just getting his loyalties registered loud and clear just in case the clamour for Rahul becomes a cacophony in the run-up to the next elections. This way no one can say he became a loyalist late in the day.
Even so, having brought the topic up, it is worth looking at the possibility that the people of India may still elect him MP and his mother and party will duly reverse that title to PM. The question though is not whether he will become PM – in this country even unelected political incompetents like Manmohan Singh can become PM – but whether he is fit to be one.
What are the qualities India needs in a PM? Here is one list, and Rahul does not pass any test.
First, is he responsible? Does he take ownership of anything beyond his claim to the big chair? A leader has to take responsibility for anything he does directly, and constructive blame for things that go wrong. Has Rahul shown any such inclination? In 2009, Manmohan Singh asked him to join the cabinet. Rahul evaded the responsibility. Singh’s government has done many things to help his politics, but Rahul and Sonia have been quick to claim credit only for the things that went right (NREGA, farm loan waivers, et al). But one result has been high inflation and huge budgetary deficits. There’s no Rahul articulating an economic vision on how to get resources to the poor without busting the budget.
The PM has said that the Maoist threat is the biggest the country faces. But has Rahul had anything to say on it? He was quick to rush to Dadri Kond to claim credit for stopping a mining project, but does he take responsibility for the huge policy vacuum that has slowed down foreign and domestic investment? Not by a long chalk. His boot-lickers were quick to give him credit for the party’s excellent showing in Uttar Pradesh in 2009; but the blame for its defeat in Bihar and Gujarat went to someone else. Are leaders there only to take credit and let someone else take the blame? Rahul Gandhi is a leader only if you think leadership is about finding a popular cause and claiming it as your own.
Second, a leader is always visible to his people. He is open to dialogue and learning. Has Rahul shown any such capability? When was the last time you saw Rahul Gandhi answering even questions at a press conference? What we have seen is him parachuting to trouble-spots when it suits him. He is invisible most of the time, and emerges only for photo-ops and statements that are motherhood ones which we cannot question. Has Rahul ever been interviewed by a Karan Thapar? Has he ever subjected himself to detailed scrutiny? Do we know whose company he keeps and which are his key personal relationships? Do we know what he thinks about anything beyond handing out largesse to the poor (which no one objects to anyway)? Has he had anything to say on any burning issue facing the country? On India and Pakistan? On crime? An invisible leader, who surfaces only when he chooses to, is not fit to be PM of this country. If he can shine only in controlled conditions, how can he rule this diverse country?
Third, a leader must have some experience handling something. Nehru was in politics for years before he became PM. Indira Gandhi was a minister in Lal Bahadur Shastri’s cabinet before she became PM. Even Rajiv Gandhi, for all his political inexperience, was an Indian Airlines pilot before he inherited his mother’s job. But Rahul? Has he held any job in his life? Why did he decline Manmohan Singh’s offer of a ministerial berth when it was offered? Was it to evade responsibility?
It is all right to hide behind the figleaf that he is working for the party, but could he not have held a real job as well? Why couldn’t he have worked for the party and government, as many ministers do? Most senior ministers do ministry work as well as handle party affairs in some states. So why not Rahul? Unfortunately, the evidence on record is that Rahul Gandhi does not take up real responsibility. Like Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, he has discovered that the remote gives you more power without responsibility. This is what Rahul has settled for.
Four, does he ever take hard decisions? Or even socially responsible ones? Why haven’t we heard Rahul Gandhi leading a campaign against female foeticide? Why haven’t we seen him take a stand against crime and corruption? Why haven’t we seen him say that we have to identify the real poor so that resources can be channelled to them rather than leaked to the non-poor and the corrupt? When his father had the courage to say that less than 10% of the resources meant for the poor get to them, why can’t Rahul say that he will do something about it? Quite clearly, he is incapable of fighting the vested interests.
Five, does he ever listen to people who don’t agree with him? By living a cloistered life, Rahul is ensuring that he gets to listen only to time-servers and people with their own agendas. The most important quality in a leader is his ability to break out of his circle (prison) of close advisors and take in a diverse range of opinions. This was something Rajiv Gandhi was willing to do, before Bofors forced him to rely on party regulars, who sent him back into his shell. But Rajiv showed courage in trying to tackle the Punjab problem, the Sri Lankan Tamils issue, and many other things. Rahul has shown no such inclination. If he has any views, he has kept them to himself.
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