In a move right out of his new bestie North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s playbook, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent Moscow and the rest of the world into a tizzy by vanishing from public view for 10 days beginning March 5. Macho man Putin is routinely seen rattling his sabre at wild and frequently dangerous animals, the West or his critics at home. So after he cancelled a high-level trip to Kazakhstan, speculation on what could possibly have brought the karate-kicking, whale-tagging, tiger-stroking president to skip a meeting with a friendly counterpart took on a life of its own. Depending on which rumour one credited, Putin — who has since resurfaced to host the president of Kyrgyzstan in St Petersburg — was either getting cosmetic surgery, watching the birth of a love child in Switzerland, staving off a coup or, more prosaically, suffering from an ailment.
The Kremlin was hard at work shooting down the incredibly detailed rumours: “Information that a child has been born to Vladimir Putin is not true.” Despite their best efforts at stanching the veritable cottage industry of theories, however, his handlers only succeeded in feeding the Putin mania. After shooting down rumours of Putin’s ill health, his spokesman said that “his handshake is so strong he breaks hands with it”.
India, too, is wondering about a leader gone missing. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is often conspicuous only by his absence in Parliament, but his much-publicised “leave of absence”, since extended, has touched off feverish gossip. Maybe he is on a walkabout, rediscovering his political nous. Perhaps he has been enjoying some downtime with the Russian president, learning the art of using an absence to demonstrate his importance. Next up for Rahul: a visit to the Hermit Kingdom?