Former US President calls Rahul Gandhi ‘nervous, unformed’, reinforcing an image that the Congress leader ought to change
It is not the best of times to be Rahul Gandhi, what with the Congress hitting new lows both electorally and politically and all of it being attributed to his lustreless persona, directionless ideas and unchanging ways. The Gandhi scion continues to lose the battle of perception despite the many image makeovers he might have undergone. But the latest opinion of former US President Barack Obama has definitely done him in. In his new memoir, Promised Land, the Democrat leader, who has worked extensively with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) while in office, made quite uncharitable and unflattering remarks about him. Basing his observations on a short meeting he had with Rahul in 2017, he described him as having a “nervous unformed quality about him,” like a student eager to impress the teacher but “lacking aptitude and passion to master the subject.” Considering it comes from a world leader with proven liberal values and one who would be deeply invested in politicians sharing his vision, this comment definitely shows up Rahul as a reluctant leader forced into circumstances and explains much of his recalcitrance and abandonment of Congress affairs after the Lok Sabha debacle of 2019. This lends further grist to criticism about his ability to lead the party again, something that his mother Sonia Gandhi wants. His political opponents and their troll armies have long tried to undermine him, both as a leader of any standing and as a serious critic of the Government by giving him nicknames like “shehzada”, “pappu” and so on. Even when he does make valid points, like questioning the Government about the ailing economy, or the plight of women or the poor handling of the pandemic, despite him raising the issue way before it turns into a major crisis for the country, his detractors are dismissive of his voice. Plus, Opposition unity has suffered badly because of his non-serious nature with senior leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Chandrababu Naidu refusing to deal with his immaturity. But this book has just unmade his efforts at being serious through the year of the pandemic at least. For Obama’s words are sincere and precise and unlike the vacuous name-calling by trolls, are actually trenchant, projecting the reality of Rahul as it is. And it rings more true as the former US President had a few good words for the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in comparison. He found him, like former US Secretary of Defence Bob Gates, to be among those who have a “kind of impassive integrity.” Clearly, this draws more attention to Singh being the “accidental and silent” Prime Minister, who had to kowtow to the Congress first family. The “told you so” comments are predictably flooding the Internet.
However, Rahul is not the only politician to have been at the receiving end of Obama’s biting wit as he has described Russian President Vladimir Putin as “physically unremarkable.” This demolishes the carefully constructed belief of the latter being the epitome of hypermasculinity in his country, particularly after his widely-publicised photo shoot in which the bare-chested leader can be seen riding a horse in Siberia, giving him instant mythical status in Russia. He has also compared Putin to “tough, street-smart ward bosses who used to run Chicago.” He recalls the former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy as “bold and opportunistic” with “his chest thrust out like a bantam cock’s.” And even though he has kind words for the US President-elect Joe Biden and calls him an honest, loyal and decent man, Obama does say that he sensed Biden “might get prickly if he thought he wasn’t given his due — a quality that might flare up when dealing with a much younger boss.” Obama is not bound by diplomatic niceties of his office anymore but as a statesman, he has made an honest assessment of leadership and left us to deduce what its components should be by exposing shortcomings. If anything, Obama’s observation should be Rahul’s wake-up call. For his own good.
Saturday, 14 November 2020 | Pioneer
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