Congress leader Sonia Gandhi attends the proceedings of Lok Sabha on the first day of the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on Monday Image Credit: ANI

Sonia Gandhi, interim Congress president has had an unblemished public life. She is soft-spoken and even in the heat and dust of public meetings, never gets below the belt with the opponents.

Gandhi, 75, has been unwell of late, frail from a chronic health issue and is currently recovering from a bout of COVID and three days of non-stop interrogation by India’s Enforcement Directorate (ED). Most journalists and political leaders who have dealt with her will testify that she rarely loses her temper in public and is always dignified in her reactions, sometimes painfully so.

So what made Gandhi, who swears by a dignified and decorous public life, recently lose her temper inside the House with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders. The short answer is that she didn’t actually.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi waves at crowds during a roadshow (File) Image Credit: Supplied

This is testified by Mahua Moitra of the Trinamool Congress and Supriya Sule of the Nationalist Congress Party and scores of MPs present inside the House, who witnessed the Gandhi versus Smriti Irani face off over what has been described as an insult of President Draupadi Murmu.

The BJP attacked Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, the Congress leader of the House, for calling Murmu the “Rasthrapatni” which they said was derogatory to the high office but, the real target it seems was Sonia Gandhi.

There were shrill and hysterical demands that Gandhi immediately apologise to tribals and Dalits. Choudhary has since proffered a written apology to the President, prodded on by Sonia Gandhi.

Making a bigger point

The reason for this background my dear reader of SWAT ANALYSIS is because I want to make a larger point about leadership and leaders conduct in public life. Does the public like and seek as an example leaders who are shrill, personal and seek to dominate their opponents? A leader must have democratic values — the ability to listen to all views and to disagree without animus.

When a leader is all about me and myself, does she showcase leadership qualities or the converse? Take the case of Dr Manmohan Singh, two term Prime Minister (PM) and perhaps the most educated leader to be PM of India. Dr Singh never lost his mien, that of a gentle teacher who whispered rather than shouted.

I never heard Singh talk about himself or his struggles though he has a compelling back-story of poverty, where he actually studied under public lampshades and still made it all the way to the word’s most prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge.

Dr Manmohan Singh, Former Prime Minister of India Image Credit: Supplied

Singh managed to pull millions of Indians out of poverty and with Gandhi introduced the ground breaking Right to Information Act.

Former United States president, Barack Obama hailed him as a “guru” among world leaders and yet I remember asking Singh about it and his cheeks turned a bright pink and he brushed it off saying, “Obama was praising India not him”.

Not brash and aggressive

Sadly, we in India, especially in north India, seem to prefer our leaders dripping machismo and talking big. And, I would think that this preference for loud chest thumping goes across the board. We even like our sporting idols to be loud, brash and aggressive.

Take the case of Abhinav Bindra, the first Indian to win individual Olympic gold in shooting. Bindra is quiet, contemplative and extremely well behaved. India didn’t quite know what to make of a superstar athlete from Punjab not doing the customary Balle Balle.

The universal response among lazy journalists, who refused to do any homework on shooting, his sport, was that he was “thanda” (cold). They wanted answers on his favourite actor and when he would get married. Bindra, who is icily aggressive about his sport, cringed and so did we — the viewers.

A good leader in any field is inspirational, making followers rise up to be their best. If you have charisma and millions of people listening and following you, use the pulpit wisely. Make citizens behave better with each other. That to me is leadership.