Ahead of the northeast poll results, Rahul Gandhi took off for Italy to visit his maternal grandmother. He is now headed for Singapore and Malaysia. His absence during a crucial election season has drawn criticism, especially from the BJP.
ThePrint asks: Does Rahul Gandhi get the timing of his foreign visits mostly wrong?
Rahul Gandhi’s holidays show an abandonment of responsibility, refusal to be accountable
The latest foreign visit of Rahul Gandhi comes in the backdrop of elections in three northeastern states. While there was very little campaigning the Congress did in Tripura — the story that did the rounds was that there was a tacit understanding between the CPI (M) and them — Rahul Gandhi campaigned heavily in Meghalaya. He invested a lot of time and energy in the state. The Congress also tried to make its presence felt in Nagaland through the Church. But suddenly, he just upped and left days before the election results were announced.
Frankly, any politician travelling abroad on a private visit is alright and inconsequential. Unlike in the past, this time, Rahul Gandhi even made a public announcement that he was going to Italy to meet his nani on Holi. What surprised me was that any serious politician would consider various factors before planning a foreign visit.
Rahul Gandhi is the president of a national party. He cannot just jazz off to Italy at the time of an election in that country. It could be coincidental, but the fact remains it was not just anybody travelling to Italy. It was the president of the Congress and he cannot be in denial of his family’s Italian baggage.
That apart, on the day of the election results, he was missing in action. A facetious explanation could be that the northeast doesn’t figure high on his list of priorities. But that isn’t how politics works. Politics is a 24×7 profession, and irrespective of the size and location of a state, you have to run the whole course of the election, from contesting and campaigning to waiting for the results.
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Responding to an electoral outcome isn’t just about making a victory speech if you win or mumble an explanation if you lose. You have to be there for the workers and supporters of your party, especially when you lose. If you are missing, the message you are sending is that you have abandoned them when they need you the most. Consequently, they will not want to stay with a party whose leadership is callous, uncaring and indifferent to them.
Rahul Gandhi should have been in Shillong or at least in Delhi, monitoring the post-election deal-making to forge a coalition. Instead, he wasn’t even in the country. Unsurprisingly, the Congress leaders who were sent to Meghalaya found it impossible to speak to anyone. The message that the party president wasn’t interested had already reached them.
This isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last either, that Rahul has disappeared. It shows political immaturity, an abandonment of responsibility, and refusal to be accountable. It was a politically incorrect and disastrous thing to do. He has since shown no regret, which tells us Rahul will keep getting his sums wrong and blotting his notebook. Pity the Congress.
Perhaps, it’s privacy that Rahul Gandhi seeks, which is a strict no-no for Indian-bred politicians
Communications consultant, political campaign adviser
Rahul Gandhi’s jaunts get far more attention than they merit in the media and otherwise. The Prime Minister’s jaunts are perhaps equally frequent (but then, of course, he is our own peripatetic Prime Minister). If you add the number of global heads of state visiting, the Prime Minister’s net face time on matters overseas is probably substantially higher than that of his counterparts.
But, let’s try and understand why Rahul Gandhi goes ‘stir-crazy’ if he stays in India for too long. Perhaps he seeks privacy — a strict no-no for Indian-bred politicians. Or maybe he’s seeking to clear his mind space? It’s a little difficult to fathom; except that he has managed to rein in his intemperate comments.
Perhaps he travels to hear younger global voices? But then there are so many of them floating locally that it’s not quite an excuse. Or maybe he goes overseas to connect with India’s powerful and wealthy diaspora? Aha! There may be a clue there. Whatever it is, aside from a visit to see an aging nani, most of his visits these days have at least some official or speaking engagement.
The reason for the diatribes is possibly that any young leader attempting to resuscitate his rapidly dwindling electoral base needs to be more full-on, and full-tilt, in his visibility and management approach. If it’s about spacing it out, visits to the unsung parts of India might provide a couple of elements that are also a part of his task. But what else drives him, we’re still left guessing.
Politics is a never-ending ruckus. By that logic, Rahul Gandhi must never leave India
Brand Guru, founder,Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
Poor Rahul Gandhi! Everything he does is under scrutiny. Everything he doesn’t do is under deeper scrutiny still. It’s the price you pay for a life in public space, I guess.
The latest brouhaha is all about his trip to Italy to see his grandma a day before the counting of votes for the NE elections was about to begin.
This sure is politics. The buzz is that if Rahul knew the Congress would do well, he would have stayed back. Really? Is it fair for one to think for the guy? In any case, who knows what is packed in those opaque EVMs anymore?
Rahul Gandhi is sure jinxed on this count. His every sojourn out of the country sure is ill-timed. But then, in the life of a politician in India, is there anything called well-timed at all? There is an election every other month. There is a scam every other week now. Politics is a ruckus that never ever stops. By this standard, Rahul Gandhi must never ever step out of the country. Or if he must, he should be able to come back in five hours flat!
The key problem is the fact that Rahul Gandhi is not considered a full-time politician even today. He needs to change that image quick and fast. Out there on the other side of the Congress fence is PM Modi. A full-time PM. The comparison always is with our dear dynamic, 24X7 Mr Modi.
We must, however, remember one thing in this comparison. One of them is the PM of this country, and the other the president of a political party, and, for sure, an MP to boot. And comparisons typically are odious. To each their own.
If Rahul Gandhi wants to change Congress, he can start by not vanishing during hard times
Founder-director, CVoter International
It is one thing if something crucial happens out of the blue when a leader is away. It is quite another when events are scheduled, like elections. Rahul Gandhi was well aware of the election schedule for the northeast and should have been careful about choosing his travel dates.
His frequent travels will only cause people to look at his trips with suspicion. That is a part of politics. Some of his trips have been completely mistimed, almost leading to him being labelled an escapist. That is something Congress strategists should think about. Leaders are only taken seriously when they are there to lead during bad times.
Rahul Gandhi has to take responsibility as the captain of the team. It should not fall on the local leadership to take the blame. This kind of approach, where the local leadership takes the failures and the central leadership takes the credit, is why the Congress is at the pathetic tally of 48 seats in the Lok Sabha.
As a team leader, if he had taken responsibility, people would take him more seriously. However, it’s not just Rahul Gandhi’s fault, it is the inherent Congress culture. The credit for the good things always went to Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, and the bad results were attributed to the local leadership. As for Rahul Gandhi, if you’re winning in Punjab because of Amrinder Singh and you try to take the credit, no one is going to give it to you.
If Rahul Gandhi, as he claims, wants to change the Congress and reinvent it, he has to start with himself. He has to be there during the difficult times.
He is not a 24×7 politician like Prime Minister Modi
Columnist, former political editor of the Hindustan Times
Congress president Rahul Gandhi is known for his habit of playing truant and escaping from the drudgery of party work to have short holidays abroad. He certainly gets the timing wrong.
This could be because he was forced into politics and is known as a reluctant leader. He is not a 24×7 politician like Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His luxurious lifestyle and foreign jaunts often get trolled on social media. Not all his foreign trips are holidays as sometimes he clubs them with work, like he did in the US, Norway and Dubai by addressing the Indian diaspora.
His party members are often embarrassed when they find him out of the country at the end of some major event as it made for bad optics. He keeps his friends and foes guessing about his destination. Soon after his party’s humiliation in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he disappeared for 54 days for a sabbatical. Last year, when the entire opposition was agitated about farmers’ suicides in Madhya Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi went off on a holiday. There are many more such instances.
The opposition has targeted him for his absence during the counting of assembly election votes in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, but he was visiting his grandmother in Italy. Some senior Congress leaders pointed out that while he may have gone away for short spells earlier, he no longer had the luxury to do so after becoming the party president. In India, leaders are not known for taking holidays.
Compiled by Deeksha Bhardwaj, Journalist at ThePrint.
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