Whenever there's a crisis in America, President Barack Obama leads from the front. He gives hard-hitting speeches directly to the people of his country and boosts their morale. Even his predecessors George W Bush was an excellent orator. Who can forget his bullhorn speech at Ground Zero immediately after 9/11 when he shouted, "I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people—and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!" to thunderous applause.
That is the case with most world leaders. They are great at giving speeches and leading from the front. It used to be the case with India too. Jawaharlal Nehru used to keep his crowds in raptures and was the most popular leader of his time. Indira Gandhi was forceful and as hard as nails. Very few people could hold their ground in front of her. Rajiv Gandhi did most of the talking himself and did not believe in leaving it to his cronies.
The tradition was continued with Atal Behari Vajpayee who was used to giving eloquent speeches all his life. He had even impressed Nehru, who predicted a bright future for him.
However, that glorious tradition has been broken in 2004 and we have entered a phase of leadership from behind where the leaders cannot inspire the nation through their oratorical skills and the job is left to rude and brash lower level spokespersons.
At the very top is Sonia Gandhi, who must be the worst speaker in the history of Congress presidents. Her Hindi is broken and English not that fluent too. Her election speeches are a stage-managed affair by the Congress party and inspire no-one.
She is too scared to give press conferences and take on the media directly, largely working from behind the scenes. Of course one does get a few angry outbursts from time to time like after the Lokpal Bill was defeated. But that's about it.
At another time when she was furious over BJP leader LK Advani's statements in the Lok Sabha, instead of standing up and taking him head on, she turned around and urged her MPs to respond.
Before that she was absent from the country when the Congress faced its greatest public perception crisis during the Anna Hazare August Kranti in 2011.
She lives in secret and moves in secret and not one media house gets to know when she is out of the country. While the RTI has been a great success, anything asked about Sonia is met with a blank. What is most baffling is also why the entire mainstream media is soft towards her despite her negative attitude towards communication.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also amongst the dullest of speakers amongst all former PMs and probably the only one with zero support at the grassroots. He is the only PM never to have been a member of the Lok Sabha, which is a new low for the representative democracy of this country. While he has given dozens of speeches, none of them touch upon tricky or pressing issues and are mere formalities. Like Sonia even he doesn't choose to meet the press on a regular basis and answer important questions. His "Hazaron jawabon se acchi hai meri khamoshi," (My silence is better than thousands of answers) only ended up making his image worse.
The third member of the Congress triumvirate is no different. Rahul Gandhi is evasive to the press, silent on key issues and reticent in the Lok Sabha. The only speeches he gives are during elections in a controlled environment and he offers absolutely no inspiration as the UP debacle shows. He's either absent in the Lok Sabha or quiet, rarely engaging with the Opposition. During the Lokpal crisis all he could do was give an angry schoolboy speech in the Lok Sabha where even the proper House rules weren't followed.
The same pattern was repeated with the latest allegations against Robert Vadra. Either Vadra himself should have come out and clarified it immediately. Either that or Sonia herself should have issued a statement, since she is after all his mother-in-law.
When Shashi Tharoor was answerable to his fiance, why can't Sonia be answerable to her son-in-law? But such double standards are common in the Congress.
Instead, the entire battalion of Congress spokespersons were unleashed on the media much like hunting dogs are unleashed during a chase.
But that is also the norm for the Congress: Total silence at the top and too much noise at the bottom.
It is no wonder that someone like BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi is gaining popularity as a potential Prime Minister. At least he doesn't hide behind anyone and takes his opponents head-on!
He is merely filling a vacuum that has been created by the Congress top brass. Till then the country will have to be content with leadership from behind for a few more years.
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