Rahul Gandhi, the cult of an irregular politician, must culture a habit of serious work to save Congress

Rahul Gandhi's unique style of so-called leadership is characterised by what could easily be diagnosed as attention deficit sporadic activity disorder.

By now it is clear that he picks up an issue only to abandon it midway, starts an agitation only to lose interest in it after some time and after every few visits to a village or some mofussil town — a phenomenon defined by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl as the "tragedy vampirism"— gets insatiable separation pangs for some exotic destination. With his style of politics, it can easily be predicted that when the going gets tough, Rahul gets going — preferably on an overseas vacation.

 Rahul Gandhi, the cult of an irregular politician, must culture a habit of serious work to save Congress

File image of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

The mess Rahul's politics is was evident on Wednesday when Meira Kumar filed her nomination for the presidential election. Kumar has been fielded by the Opposition in what it has labelled as a clash of ideologies — though, in reality, it is nothing more than a fight to garner Dalit votes through banal symbolism — after several rounds of discussions, debates and shows of unity.

Her nomination by the combined Opposition is being seen as a net practice for the 2019 elections, where the Opposition plans to field a united team against Team Narendra Modi. And, being the biggest component of this anti-BJP formation, the Congress plans to lead it and, if it gets the opportunity, stake claim to India's future leadership.

But, the Congress party's heir apparent, prime-minister-in-waiting Rahul was nowhere in sight as Kumar filed her papers on Wednesday. He was, like he generally is, missing in action, enjoying perhaps a boat ride in Venice.

India is currently in the middle of a fresh round of turmoil. In rural areas, farmers are protesting falling prices of crops and rising debts. In urban markets, traders on a warpath because of their reluctance to comply with the GST deadline. Across north India, gau goons are on the rampage, lynching people on trains, on roads and burning down houses and property, ostensibly to save cows but in reality to terrorise India's minorities.

His own party is in a bit of a mess, ready for yet another round of setbacks and desertions. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar has brought the mahagathbandhan on the precipice of a breakup by flirting with the BJP and publicly fighting with his political better half, Lalu Prasad Yadav. In Gujarat, Shankersinh Vaghela is ready to do a Himanta Biswa Sharma on the eve of polls by ridiculing the leadership and holding a gun to the party's head in an apparent bid to get himself declared the Congress' chief minister candidate.

For a wannabe leader, this is the perfect time to hit the streets, stand with the oppressed and terrorised masses, give voice to India's growing concerns with bigotry, Islamophobia, agrarian crisis and hasty experiments with the economy, and guide his own party. But, Rahul has fled the battlefield on some flimsy excuse to be with his grandmother in Italy.

A real leader — and Rahul by current evidence is just a part-timer — places duty ahead of family, nation's concerns over personal priorities. Only by negating the self and embracing the higher ideals of kartavya does a leader separate himself from a pretender. Sachin Tendulkar, for instance, returned to bat for India in the 1999 World Cup soon after his father's funeral because he believed in putting the country's expectations above his own loss. Virat Kohli, as the story goes, batted for his team in a Ranji Trophy game even when his father's body was waiting for him back home for the last rites.

File image of Priyanka, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File image of Priyanka, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. PTI

But, Rahul has a remarkable penchant for doing the exact opposite, placing his own interests above that of the party and the call of duty. No wonder, he is rarely taken seriously or held up as a paragon of leadership. This is not to argue that politicians are not entitled to vacations and breaks. But a holiday appears justified only if it comes after back-breaking work and a gruelling schedule.

In Rahul's case, rare bouts of public appearances and sound bytes punctuate his penchant for vacations, making him look like an exemplar of what Renee Zellweger says in Cold Mountain: "He lives to rest, he was born tired."

Rahul's lifestyle, in fact, points to a tragic hypocrisy that has become a hallmark of his politics. In his politician avatar, he tries to portray himself as a common man, somebody who wears kurtas — that he tears off when the script demands it — and inexpensive jeans, grows a lazy stubble, queues up outside banks to withdraw money and eats at the homes of Dalits and minorities. In this avatar, Rahul preaches from the moral pulpit, talks about sacrifice and merit and calls the prime minister the leader of a '"suit-boot ki sarkar".

But, his weakness for foreign jaunts, frequent breaks suggest that he is too used to the luxuries of life that have bestowed upon him by his serendipitous birth in a political dynasty. And his common man mask is just a facade for hiding the real Rahul.

In many ways, Rahul appears to be a mirror image of the Donald Trump brand of public life, characterised by happenstance (being born into privileges), addiction to a lifestyle that is the privilege of the elite and the sham of representing the underprivileged, the irony of being a crusader against the establishment and the elite when in real life he has all their privileges.

Much of the blame for turning Rahul into a bundle of contradictions must, of course, go to Sonia Gandhi, the indulgent mother who seems ready to substitute for Rahul, complete his homework while the son unwinds and recharges his perennially exhausted batteries. But, by allowing him a life of luxury, vacations and the privilege of treating the job of the leader of India's oldest political party as a part-time hobby, Sonia is just creating another trophy victim of that famous aphorism: A pampered child is a hampered child.

Maybe she should someday wheel him in a pram, sit him down and ask him to finally make up his mind on what he intends to do: fight for his political survival or take the next flight out every time the heat becomes unbearable for him literally as well as politically.

Updated Date: Jun 28, 2017 18:09:44 IST