Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
Politics in South Asia generally follows a familiar pattern i.e. political parties are run by families and a country’s political leadership essentially moves from one family member to another. In Pakistan, the Pakistan’s People Party is run by the Bhutto family and that name recognition is so strong and valuable that the late-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s son uses her family’s last name as opposed to his fathers in order to shore up his credentials among the party’s faithful. Similarly, in India, the Congress Party has held sway – either directly or indirectly – over that country for its entire existence and the Gandhi family has controlled the Congress Party since the Party’s creation. However, despite this iron-grip, no Gandhi family member has held India’s Prime Minister-ship since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. One reason for this absence is partially due to circumstances beyond the family’s control: Rajiv Gandhi’s wife is Italian so her becoming India’s Prime Minister was never going to happen and Mr. Gandhi’s son, Rahul, was only 20 when his father was killed. However, this gap could also be attributed to the political inadequacies of the current Gandhi generation and that may be of some concern to the party’s followers and the Indian people.
The New York Times asked this question in a piece titled In Fractious Political Times, a Scion of India’s Dynasty Stays Quiet. The piece makes the argument that the younger Mr. Gandhi is not up to the task of leading his family’s party as he “is conspicuously absent in the noisy swirl of Indian politics, a silence that has allowed critics to question whether there is much to him besides his name.” In addition, he “remains an enigma. His vision for the country is unclear, his political talents are in doubt, and his ability to win votes is no longer assured.” These are pretty strong words and, despite the fact that the piece was written in a western newspaper will hurt Mr. Gandhi’s reputation and, by extension, the Congress Party because it will undoubtedly be picked up by Indian newspapers and cause many conversations among the country’s populace.
While I don’t necessarily disagree with the article’s thesis – Mr. Gandhi has not been the aggressive party leader many hoped he would be – his failure to meet those expectations may have more to do with the expectations than him. However, while that is an interesting topic, what is of immediate interest to me is the timing of this article i.e. why was this piece published now? Wouldn’t it have been more topical immediately after the Uttar Pradesh elections during which Mr. Gandhi was the face of the Congress Party and in which his Party suffered multiple defeats? Or perhaps in the lead-up to the national elections that are currently scheduled for 2014? Regardless, it seems Mr. Gandhi has a lot of work to do in order to improve his image and he better get to it.