A prospective PM cannot be a part-timer

By disappearing during the widespread popular protests in Delhi against the gang-rape and death of a 23-year-old paramedical student, Rahul Gandhi hasn't done his prime ministerial chances any good.

The upheaval posed a major challenge to the government and the party, forcing them to appoint a committee to stiffen the penal provisions on rape, and another to probe the lapses into the police response to the barbaric incident. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi also broke with protocol to go to the airport to receive the girl's body when it was flown in from Singapore.

But, even as the country was exercised not only over the brutal incident but also over the rising cases of violence against women, the heir apparent, who has been widely touted as the person to replace Manmohan Singh in 2014, was nowhere to be seen. He only issued a brief message of condolence from behind the scenes before falling silent even as the turmoil continued with the tragic incident being discussed night after night on television and the ruling party fending off the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) demand for a special session of parliament.

Rahul's absence was felt all the more because it was the younger generation which played a leading role in expressing outrage over the tragedy and the seemingly tardy official and political response as well as the earlier callousness of the establishment towards the deteriorating social scene.

As boys and girls, usually in their mid-twenties, cried "we want justice" and held candlelight vigils braving the intense cold, it was felt that the young among the Congress politicians would have been better placed to reach out to the protesters unlike the 80-year-old prime minister, whose somewhat wooden television address was marred by a faux pas at the end when he asked the camera persons whether everything went off well - "theek hai?" he asked.

What Rahul's absence showed at a time when the entire central vista of the national capital was sealed to keep out the protesters was his lack of interest in playing a key role in politics and administration. A few months ago, a union minister had ruefully said that the young general secretary had been playing only a few "cameo roles" instead of being more proactive. But, this time, he did not enter the stage at all.

When Rahul had earlier failed to respond to the prime minister's call to join the union cabinet, it was suspected that he did not want to be a minister among ministers when he was not only seen as a natural successor to Manmohan Singh but had even said in 2007 that he could have become prime minister himself if he had "wanted to". But, now, it appears that Rahul has lost interest even in his chosen profession.

There may be two reasons for such indifference. One is that having risen to a No.2 position in the party by virtue of his lineage and, therefore, without having to strike for it, his political instincts have been dulled. The other is that he may have been disheartened by some of the failures in his political forays, notably in Uttar Pradesh, and earlier in Bihar, and more recently in Gujarat, which shows that he lacks the Nehru-Gandhi family's match-winning charisma.

There may be a third reason, which is that Rahul is not a political animal. Politics is not his natural arena, which explains why he does not attend parliament regularly. He has been pushed into the field by his mother for the sake of continuing the family's traditional occupation. But he remains a debutant who shows no signs of becoming a mature player. As much is evident from his desultory efforts to carve out a path of his own, but with no clear idea of what he wants to achieve.

Hence his exercises in slumming, as it were, when he spent a night or two in Dalit homes with a bottle of mineral water and then lost interest in whatever he had in mind. Or his endeavours to democratize the party by favouring internal elections, which can seem strange for someone who is the prime beneficiary of a feudal culture to try to do.

The fact that he hasn't spelt out his political outlook with regard to, say, the economic reforms may not be due only to Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi not always being on the same page on the subject. Instead, his silence can be attributed to his being basically a dilettante who hasn't cared to formulate his views.

He did support the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008 and foreign investment in the retail sector recently. But these were one-off interventions instead of being part of a comprehensive world-view. A prospective prime minister cannot be a part-timer who is heard and seen occasionally even if his party is cheering him on. He may still make it to the top, but the rest of the country will look upon his ascent with scepticism in the wake of his latest disappearing act.

(05-01-2013-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at amulyaganguli@gmail.com)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

Pietersen to miss Delhi's first game

Pietersen to miss Delhi's first game

The former England batsman will have to lead the franchise as he is out of the match against Bangalore with a finger injury. More »

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

The court emphasised that the tainted administrator can no longer work for the BCCI. More »

'If you do the wrong thing it will be found out'

'If you do the wrong thing it will be found out'

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

Mitchell Johnson may quit T20s for Test cricket

Mitchell Johnson may quit T20s for Test cricket

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

There's a lot going on: Fleming

There's a lot going on: Fleming

He experienced anxious moments in the lead-up to the tournament as the courts decided on whether to suspend the franchise, he said, but stressed that the… More »

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Former Pakistan cricket captain Rashid Latif said Tuesday he turned down the job of national chief selector because he could not work with ex-players tainted… More »

We are not over-confident: Bailey

We are not over-confident: Bailey

Indian Premier League — George Bailey-led Kings XI Punjab will face Chennai Super Kings on Friday. More »

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

MoU between BCCI & its units to avoid double taxation delayed after a few decline to share details. More »

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Their main concern, once again, is the fast bowling More »

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

New Zealand selectors included two new caps in a 15-man Test squad named Tuesday to tour the West Indies, with injury-hit spinner Dan Vettori's future… More »

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The Preview — Defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Kolkata Knight Riders More »

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

He was aggrieved by the allegations against him during the hearing. More »

Klinger on his exit from South Australia

Klinger on his exit from South Australia

Michael Klinger has revealed he felt compelled to leave South Australia after being told he would be only a fringe part of the Redbacks' plans for next season, and disputed the suggestion that he left… More »

India: cricket's Brazil

India: cricket's Brazil

They are tough to beat with a big talent base exposed to good facilities. (CYCSPL) More »

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Franchises are doing their bit to refurbish the image of the tainted league. More »

India-Pakistan Test series likely in 2015

India-Pakistan Test series likely in 2015

The revival of Indo-Pak Test ties could take place in UAE. More »

Kohli hopes to end RCB trophy drought

Kohli hopes to end RCB trophy drought

'This time around we will hope to go few more steps ahead and actually get that trophy' More »

Gavaskar can help IPL regain glory

Gavaskar can help IPL regain glory

Apart from the foreign players a lot of behind-the-scene activity has taken place in selecting the Indian domestic players. More »

Tendulkar, Ganguly to promote soccer

Tendulkar, Ganguly to promote soccer

Leading Spanish club Atletico Madrid and former cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly are among the owners of eight franchises of a new Indian… More »

This isn’t my first trip to India: Neesham

This isn’t my first trip to India: Neesham

Kiwi all-rounder wants to utilise the India leg to explore the country’s tourist attractions. More »

Ishant wanted to quit ODIs

Ishant wanted to quit ODIs

Says his mother made him change his mind. More »