Bad Timing Rahul

The hardest thing to understand about Rahul Gandhi's declaration last week that he plans to play a 'larger role' in politics and government is his timing. Why now? He could have become prime minister in 2009 had he wanted but chose instead to wait till he had won his political spurs with victorious campaigns in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Things did not work out as he may have hoped.

If Rahul has been reluctant to play the role of a real leader, the electorate has shown itself to be even more reluctant to hand him a real mandate. When his energetic campaigning in the Bihar assembly elections two years ago brought the Congress Party's seats down from 13 to four, his cohorts said it was because he had not 'really campaigned' in Bihar. 'Wait till you see what happens in UP,' one of his toadies told me last November. So I did and watched carefully as Rahul put his heart and soul into the campaign. To no avail, alas, so he did one of his

vanishing tricks.

He is given to disappearing every now and then but this time the vanishing act lasted so long that even a certified 'loyalist' of the Gandhi family like Salman Khurshid had to admit in this newspaper, two weeks ago, that Rahul's political role has been mostly a series of cameos. Was it this that prompted Rahul to suddenly assert himself? Was it a little lecture from Mummy? Was it the economic slowdown? Was it the growing strains in the United Progressive Alliance? Whatever it was, his timing could not be worse.

Not just because the political fallout could have dangerous consequences but because the Indian economy has been left in such bad shape by the man who will now be President. The Prime Minister cannot be absolved of all blame but, as the western media has suddenly discovered, his role was more that of Rahul's regent than India's prime minister so he had limited political authority. So very limited that ministers supposedly close to Sonia Gandhi (or Rahul) openly defied him.

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