For the longest time we have known Rahul Gandhi mostly through images. He was the serious faced boy standing next to his father staring at his grandmother’s funeral pyre. Then we saw him as a young man at his father’s funeral looking, in hindsight, astonishingly like a vulnerable Harry Potter with his round glasses. But the Gandhis (rightly) guarded Rahul and Priyanka’s privacy fiercely while they were growing up and we knew little about them as people.
Rahul’s entry into the family business as the MP from Amethi, however, did not improve the state of public knowledge of the Gandhi heir apparent, who remained resolutely mum and mostly out of sight. His few forays into the spotlight -- dinners with Dalits, that lone speech in the Parliament -- were not exactly encouraging, but there was still enough room for mystery and speculation... until he stepped fully into the political fray during the elections.
After months of an acrimonious electoral campaign, we now know a lot more about Rahul Gandhi -- likely more than he would prefer. Sometimes, great knowledge can be a dangerous thing, at least for the Congress party.
Speech thoda down hai Dinesh Sharma is Rahul Gandhi’s Number 1 fan. “Rahul Gandhi hero, baaki sab zero” is his favourite slogan. For the last two-and-a-half years he has been going to Rahul rallies across the country dressed in Congress colours, turban and all, waving a giant flag . And he goes barefoot to the rallies. His feet are chapped, bleeding, scorched from the hot asphalt but he swore he would, as a mark of respect, not wear shoes to Rahul rallies until the elections were over. Even as the Congress clamours for Priyanka Gandhi, Dinesh remains steadfast in his support for Rahul-ji because he says “Rahul dil se sachcha hai” (Rahul has a good heart).
But even Dinesh Sharma admits that Rahulji ka “speech thoda down hai” (speech is a little down). The more we have heard from Rahul Gandhi on the campaign trail the more apparent his communication skills, or lack thereof, have become. He is the master of the misplaced metaphor. Escape velocity. Poverty is a state of mind. We are not an elephant. We’re a beehive? Which is more powerful, an elephant or a beehive? Awkward pause.
There were too many nonsensical turns of phrase and far too little of the thrust and jab of the campaign trail. Even his mother once managed to summon up the gumption to call Modi a “maut ka saudagar”. A favour Mod repaid in full this year as he repeatedly hectored shehzada, rajmata, and the ma-beta sarkar. In response, Rahul appeared like a prissy schoolboy who couldn’t muster up an invective to save his life or his party -- until after the election when he belatedly went to Amethi and thundered “Jahan janta ki nahin suni gayi, toh aag laga denge” (Where the people are not heard, we will start a fire). The last thing the badly burnt Congress needs right now is an image of their vice president as a born-again pyromaniac.
India’s ultimate super model Campaign 2014 defied the law of dimples. Rahul was a candidate just made to light up Indian television – dimpled, designer stubble, gora without looking too obviously angrez. As John Oliver marvelled on Comedy Central, “Wow, that guy is handsome. Look at that vest. He is like an Indian Hans Solo.” Sadly for Rahul the Force was not with him.
But the looks factor is undeniable. All those studiedly tastefully black and white aam aadmi posters the Congress came up with for this election campaign only highlighted the dimpled prince’s good looks even more. Next to the man with the hard hat, and the tribal woman and the nurse, Rahul Gandhi looked like a casting studio’s idea of the political hero. The scores of campaign posters and newspaper photos have definitively proved one great truth: Rahul Gandhi is insufferable, incorrigibly photogenic. There isn't one bad photo of the man who looks gorgeous even amid the heat and dust of the campaign trail.
As Oliver went on to say, “He’s the total political package. He’s got good looks. He’s from a family with three former prime ministers. He’s got that vest. With those credentials you’d think he’d have this thing completely locked up by now.”
But the Page 3 travesty of Elections 2014 is that Open magazine did a story instead on the Modi Hotness Quotient. Now that the hurly burly is done will someone at least do a feature story about the Best Looking Prime Minister India Never Had?
King of Vagueness At the outset of his big television interview with Arnab Goswami, Arnab told him “I have one request to you right at the start of the interview, let’s be as specific as possible on the subjects we deal with.” Rahul answered “Yes, we will be specific but I would like to sort of explain things in a broader fashion.”
And that in Rahul-speak means talking about the system with endlessly. In one answer in that Arnab interview Rahul used the word system eight times. In the entire interview he used that word 73 times. It’s his hands down favourite catch-all vague word. His party wants to win elections but Rahul wants to fix the system. Rahul wants to open up the system and empower youngsters. All in the third person. Rahul told Arnab: “People do not have a voice in the system” and the system needed to be “opened up”.
After more than a decade in politics, the vice-president of the Congress party did not offer a single concrete plan or vision or strategy. This allergy to specifics was all the more evident when he stepped out in the front of the cameras to vaguely mumble, "Congress has done pretty badly. There's a lot for us to think about." Too bad for Rahul that members his own party are obsessed with trifling details, like, say, who to blame for their ignominious defeat.
The Indian Houdini Bangkok? Bali? London? Yangon? The election only served to underscore the fact Rahul Gandhi can do the vanishing act better than any magician. Where in the world is Rahul is a favourite guessing game in the political gossip circles of Delhi. “In the 10 years he has been in politics, his once-in-two-months travels abroad have been a subject of gossip and rumour,” writes Rasheed Kidwai in The Telegraph. He has rarely celebrated his birthday in India because “security considerations do not allow him to unwind here.” Rahul, sources say, loves go-karting, power-biking, shooting, diving and other adventure sports. (Electioneering however is one adventure sport he doesn’t seem to have much love for).
More importantly, Rahul's absences seem to be always poorly timed, as most recently when he inexplicably missed the farewell dinner for Manmohan Singh, hosted by his own mother. Worse, he seemed to have rushed straight to the airport straight from the campaign trail, displaying a haste to leave the country that is unseemly for a man who would rule it.
Perhaps in that sense Rahul lucked out by losing big. As PM of India, it would be a quite a bit tougher to be MIA for days. India’s loss is Bali’s gain.
The White Kurta of Blandness Whatever their other shortcomings the Gandhis are a nattily turned out bunch. Nehru was, of course, famously dapper - rose bud, Nehru jacket and all. Indira Gandhi was known for always choosing the perfect sari for the occasion, a sartorial instinct Sonia Gandhi seems to have carefully learned from – Sambalpuri ikat in Odisha, Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh. In fact, an Open article says “a new theory even suggests Sonia is picking up saris from states with separatist movements now or states that are in conflict with the country’s Maoists.” If they can’t have bread in Dandakaranya, at least they can have the consolation of dressing Sonia.
Rajiv could cut quite a dashing figure in his achkans and bandhgalas. Priyanka, who got married in a pink cotton sari woven in jail by her great-great grandfather, seems to be copying Indira these days.
But Rahul seems to have sartorially taken after his uncle Sanjay who was rarely seen in anything but rumpled kurta pajama. Rahul replaces the pajamas with jeans but the campaign proved unequivocally what a family friend told Open in 2012 – Rahul is the “most boring dresser”. Open says, almost as consolation prize, that Rahul does sometimes wear “a delicious bomber jacket” but it basically means the chances of Rahul sporting pink pants like his brother-in-law are about the same as the chances of his becoming PM anytime soon.
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Updated Date: May 24, 2014 12:03:27 IST