As the budget session of Parliament begins today, the Congress seems to have pre-empted questions about its missing Vice President Rahul Gandhi by letting it be known that he has been "granted a leave of absence for a few weeks after which he will return and resume his active participation in the affairs of the Congress party". Some of those who have followed the career of the Congress dynast as a parliamentarian, are of course left mystified by this news item: for when has he actively participated in the affairs of the Congress? Or more pertinently, not been on leave? But this time around, before questions are asked, anonymous party sources are credited with the information that he had "requested Congress president Sonia Gandhi for some time to reflect on recent events and future course of the party".  

We published the following piece a few months back. The advice holds as good today as it did then:

There is no bigger public relations disaster in this country than Rahul Gandhi. If there was any hope for him, he threw it all away by coming across as inept in an infamous interview with Arnab Goswami weeks before the 2014 general election. Rahul Gandhi’s image of a daft young boy who refuses to grow up has stuck, and stuck so badly that even serious columnists call him “pappu”.

What can Rahul Gandhi do to turn that around? Nothing, most would argue. It is too late. He has been in Indian politics for 10 years. For 10 years, he has told us he will revive the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, instead he has lost it in most places where the party had a presence. He is not up to the job, but he would not give it up either. As vice president of the party, he is the de facto heir to his mother, the crown prince. How can the crown prince stop being the clown prince?

What would have been Rahul Gandhi’s fate if he had been an aam aadmi instead of the Gandhi scion? A chaiwallah’s son perhaps? At 44 years of age, his family would not yet have given up on him. They would have forced him to get married, or get out of the house and stop being a no-good dependent.

Rahul Gandhi said during the election campaign that he will get married if he finds the right woman. This is perhaps the time when it is so important for him to get married that he should marry just about anyone.

Marriage will at least turn around his public image. He will be seen as someone who is “settling down”, that favourite phrase of South Asian parents. He will be seen as somebody who is one of us, because we ordinary people need to, you know, settle down. All focus will shift from Rahul Gandhi to the woman he chooses to marry.

Plan A: Rahul marries someone, anyone

The ideal thing to do would be to marry someone who is already a Bharatiya naari. Marrying a woman with a public image of someone who values Hindu traditions and culture would make Indians fall in love with him. All those detractors of his party who attacked Sonia Gandhi for her Italian blood will be shut up in seconds. He will be seen as someone who had a string of foreign girlfriends – a Colombian here and a Venezuelan there – but in the end returned home like good boys of the family should. And if by home we really mean home, she could be a Kashmiri Pandit.

This may not be acceptable to Mr Vice President. No problem. Since the Gandhis do not want the prime minister’s post as a matter of policy, and are not likely to get it anytime soon anyway, it is okay for Rahul Gandhi to marry a foreigner. He must nevertheless be careful about doing a lot of public ritual, showing the foreign woman adopting Hinduism and becoming a good Bharatiya naari.

Since the whole point of this exercise is public relations, he needs to be public with his relationship status. Maximum media mileage (Three Ms, as Modi would mumble) must be gotten out of Rahul Gandhi getting married. He should first be seen with her publicly, rumours must be spread and denied, because nobody believes a story until it is denied.

Nobody minds Rahul Gandhi having girlfriends, all that people want to know is: who is she? The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s youth wing says kissing in public is against Indian culture, but is it too much to ask who you kiss in private? Rahul Gandhi wants privacy, as does Narendra Modi. Yet, did it hurt Modi in the 2014 elections that we got to know he was using the Gujarat state machinery to court a woman? Instead of finding it creepy, the nation found it sweet. The man has a heart, they said.

Who is Rahul Gandhi seeing has been the most important question in Delhi for a decade. The answer the purveyors of gossip have received has always been about a foreigner. Lately, it has involved non-Indian South Asians. Rahul Gandhi wants privacy but that is a misnomer in public life. He should learn from Bollywood. They put out false information about themselves just to remain in the news. Rahul Gandhi wants to remain in public life without letting anyone know who he is seeing. Is that possible? The nation wants to know.

For months on end, the paparazzi will be busy chasing Rahul Gandhi’s fiancée. Then there will be a million articles about who is invited to the wedding and who is not. I suggest that India TV should be at the top of the guest list. Do not get fooled by Arnab again.

Life after marriage

However, as all married people know, life only gets worse after marriage. Since Rahul Gandhi will remain Rahul Gandhi and will only see his party to gradual annihilation, what will he do at that stage? In India, the solution to all problems is marriage, and the problem to this solution is kids. People will suggest names on Twitter, they will hungrily Google to find their photos, and so on.

Fathering a child or three will divide the nation on gender lines. Men will complain how the Gandhi dynasty is multiplying itself, aiming to rule us forever. Women will discuss how cute the kids are, whether they look more like Rahul or Indira.

By bombarding the media with his personal life, Rahul can thus give us a talking point about him that is different from his professional achievements, which clearly are going to be in the negative. Rahul Gandhi cannot succeed in politics until he accepts that his personal life is of national interest and becomes an exhibitionist for our voyeurism.

By the time the children start going to school, it will be general election 2019 and Rahul Gandhi will have a genuine excuse for poor professional performance. He has been busy with his personal life, Sanjay Jha will say on TV. This will be the perfect time for Rahul Gandhi to do a face-saving exit. By this time, Priyanka Gandhi’s children will be studying abroad and she could take over the reign from her brother. Rahul Gandhi could adopt the supportive actor role that Priyanka Gandhi currently plays. He could go on the char dham yatra, the Hindu pilgrimage in Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameswaram. Pilgrimage is what good families do when they are going through a lot of turmoil. Besides, the Congress party will need some clever soft Hindutva.

During this pilgrimage, Rahul’s inner voice will speak to him, and he will enter the fourth stage of Hindu life, sanyas.