Recently, a video of Rahul Gandhi in a club, attending a friend’s wedding in Nepal, went viral. The video has become an opportunity to judge whether he is a serious politician. What is the role of a “serious” politician and does the politician in question fit the bill – I leave that part up to the people and party workers to decide. However, one segment of the reactions to the video clearly translates to this rather unreal expectation of politicians – that they cannot take time out to go out for lunch, dinners, social gatherings or to be seen with friends and family in outside of work. It is this notion that I choose to address.
Politicians are censured and reprimanded for stepping out of an imaginary Lakshman Rekha who draws the line on how they can dress, speak and eat in public. When I joined politics, I was advised by supporters not to share my personal life – details of my family and friends or vacation photos on social media. I chose to disagree. I would be a hypocrite to hide an aspect of my life just to adhere to an expected standard of how society views its leaders. However, the few times I have shared pieces of my personal life, I have received disgusting comments on social media platforms, where bots run amok. It’s no wonder, then, that many politicians choose to keep their lives private. Sadly, it’s the age of cell phones and surreptitious videotaping that almost makes it seem like a crime to be seen letting loose.
In many countries, it is considered normal for the head of state to be absent. As the profile and demographics of politicians get younger in a young nation, we must embrace the idea of a new way of political life. Wouldn’t it be nicer for politicians to share moments from their private lives, those spent with friends and family? Why should they look and behave like stuck up poopers, 24/7? It is the reality today that young people do not connect with politicians. It’s because they can’t identify with someone who is always politically right. The definition of a “serious” politician must be questioned and changed.
Along the same lines, it should be normal for politicians across political divides to enjoy moments together. I remember an incident during an education summit in Doha which Alka Lamba (Congress), Nupur Sharma (BJP) and I (Shiv Sena) attended along with many others. After the summit, we took a city tour and took a selfie together. In all sincerity, we posted it on our social media platforms. Little did we know it would go viral for months, with lots of comments about how we were vacationing in an unfamiliar destination instead of working for people. While I found it a lot of fun, I ended up defending myself in front of a lot.
I believe it is time to stop putting politicians on a pedestal and tying them to the ideas of “tyaag and balidaan”. Most importantly, political opposition should be issue-based; reducing the narrative to comments on personal life is the lowest form of opposition. We politicians are as human as anyone else. Getting out to breathe is something that every profession and organization encourages as long as it doesn’t get in the way of work. Since the pandemic happened, the focus has been on mental health and fitness, as well as awareness of work-life balance. As a society, we need to normalize politicians having personal lives without being judgmental, unless it involves behavior prohibited by law. Wouldn’t people rather see those in politics as one of their own, facing similar challenges, similar time pressures, similar work-related stress?
Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi is a Rajya Sabha MP