“No one can take a decision on his behalf. He has to take a decision,” said Sonia Gandhi back in July, when asked if Rahul planned to play a larger role in the Congress party. What spoke louder and truer than her word was the accompanying wire photo: The mother leading her son firmly by the arm, herding him toward his appointed destiny. Determination writ large in the lines of her face as he slouches by her side, his shoulders and mouth wilting under the burden of duty.
In the midst of all the noise over Rahul’s intentions and qualifications to be Prime Minister, no one seems to have noticed the painfully obvious: He doesn’t want the job.
Rahul Gandhi. AFP.
Earlier this week, his sister firmly nixed any possibility of a political career. “I am not joining politics,” said Priyanka Gandhi, eager to squelch the rumors that she may be the new heir apparent. Poor Rahul is afforded no such luxury. He speaks instead by other means: his near-invisibility and mute refusal to do anything.
“We never heard him speaking on big issues…we never heard him speaking on speaking on corruption,” complained BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy. Maybe that’s because he’s trying to say something — not so much to the country, but his own mother who refuses to face the obvious. There are innumerable stories of a Rahul who resented his father’s entry into politics, loathed the politics that claimed his life, and later revelled in the anonymous life in London. And in the past TK years, he’s offered little evidence of changing his mind. The impression he conveys is of a reluctant bada beta dutifully putting in the required hours at the family bijness to make Mama happy.
As India Today noted in the aftermath of the UP elections:
The idea of Manhoman as President and Rahul prime minister has been suggested to her [Sonia] by more than one Congress MP. But from all accounts, Rahul does not seem to be interested. While his mother is busy balancing her medical treatment schedule with her political calendar, he has taken off for yet another holiday abroad. After the June 4 Congress Working Committee meeting, he went abroad. Congress sources say that while he did return from the trip, it was only a brief stopover – the general secretary packed his bags yet again, this time for a European destination.
Also revealing are the anonymous quotes emanating from party insiders in recent days. On the subject of the Gujarat elections, a Congress MP told The Telegraph, “It is bound to be Rahul-versus-Modi sooner or later. Why run away from it? Nobody will buy the logic that Rahul is a national leader and hence did not confront Modi head-on in Gujarat. This is a silly argument. People will say and believe Rahul got scared. Whoever is asking Rahul to restrain himself is acting against his interest and the party’s interest.”
Not one person suggests that opting out of Gujarat could be Rahul’s personal choice. Contrary to Sonia’s assertions, her son doesn’t seem to make any decision about his political career. And that includes the decision to not have one, as a Reuters profile underlines: ”Rahul… may understandably be reluctant to take his spot in this pantheon, but his destiny and duty, his dharma, is written, as far as Congress is concerned. ‘It’s not a question of whether he will perform or has the ability. He will come on board,’ a senior Congress party insider said.”
And so he has, like a disconsolate little boy being frogmarched to school by his mother. And much like any recalcitrant pupil, he jumps at the slightest opportunity to play truant. So why this insistence on thrusting the burden of dynasty not only on the country but also on the reluctant shoulders of its heirs? It may be a feudal sense of noblesse oblige, as Mani Shanker Aiyer suggests:
A teenage Rahul Gandhi once told his father, the prime minister from 1984 to 1989, he wished they could go back to happier days when Rajiv Gandhi was a pilot with Indian Airlines and had no political aspirations.
“I can’t now, because now I have a belief in my people. There is no going back,” former Cabinet minister and family confidante Mani Shankar Aiyar recalled Rajiv Gandhi as telling his son.
“That,” said Aiyar at one of those leafy British colonial homes in New Delhi reserved for India’s senior politicians, “is the ethos of these kids growing up.”
But later in the same Reuters story, Aiyar offers a less lofty — and likely more pressing — reason: “The Gandhi family is the bonding adhesive of Congress. The minute the family is not there, the party will begin to fall apart.”
For all that we rage about dynastic politics, Rahul may be as much its victim as its beneficiary. A dutiful son bullied into politics by the spectres of his dead father and grandmother — who lost their lives in line of dynastic duty — and the prospective destruction of a party founded by his great grandfather. And having given in to mommy’s diktat, he’s resorting to a line of passive-aggressive resistance, dragging his heels to the gaddi, hoping his ever-apparent failures and failings will save him from this unwanted “dharma”.
Priyanka is the lucky one, reprieved thus far by gender and order of birth. But if her brother’s self-destructive satyagraha should succeed, her lily-white neck will be next in line. The press is already rife with speculation, the unfounded just-like-grandma comparisons growing ever louder with each Rahul debacle. Can she escape his fate? For the sake of the country and their happiness, let’s hope so.