Or how about the fact that even though he has been a member of Parliament for eight years, nobody is quite sure what Rahul Gandhi stands for. Does India's heir apparent believe the country has reformed its economy too fast or too slow? How closely should New Delhi hew to his great grandfather's foreign policy of non-alignment? Is the Maoist insurgency active in large swathes of central and eastern India an existential threat to the nation or an exaggerated one?
Since ideology in a family-based party is whatever the family thinks, this matters. In an unusual burst of candor earlier this month, senior Congress Party leader and Law Minister Salman Khurshid declared that "we need an ideology to be given by our next generation leader Rahul Gandhi to move forward." Indeed, it's hard to think of any major politicians in the democratic world who share their views as sparingly with the press or in parliament. But if they were titular rulers, such reticence would be par for the course.
To be sure, we do know that Sonia Gandhi shares her late mother-in-law's populist streak. But that's only because she chairs the National Advisory Council, a powerful kitchen cabinet of activists and do-gooders that has driven programs like a spendthrift multi-billion-dollar rural government job guarantee and a proposal to offer subsidized food grains to most of the population. Leading economists such as Columbia University's Arvind Panagariya blame these redistributionist policies for contributing to India's poor fiscal health -- and the economic slowdown over the past year suggests that the country would indeed be better off if the family's noble sentiments are channeled in a less destructive manner. No Briton has to worry that an unelected cabal around the Queen will suddenly rejigger the National Health Service or decide that everyone deserves a lifetime supply of free fish and chips.
There's more to the idea of a Nehru-Gandhi monarchy than conforming to social reality in India or warding off batty policy ideas. Quite simply, for all its drawbacks, the family would do a better job than most recent Indian presidents. Thanks to generations of marriage outside their small Kashmiri Brahmin community and a long stint in the public eye, the Nehru-Gandhis are pan-Indian figures, not closely identified with any particular region or caste. In a country as dizzyingly diverse as India, that's preferable to the current system of rotating quotas that resemble a cross between U.S. affirmative action and the EU presidency. (Mukherjee, a Bengali Brahmin, will follow Patil, a Maratha woman, who followed A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, a Tamil Muslim, etc.)
What's more, over the decades, Indian taxpayers have already footed the bill for billions of dollars worth of airports, universities, roads, and government programs named after members of the dynasty. As power devolves to the states, regional identities rise to the fore, and integration into the global economy causes social dislocation, a pan-Indian monarch with instant name recognition may have a calming presence. Thanks to a quirk of history, and their own clever exertions over the decades, no other family in India is nearly as qualified to perform this role as the Nehru-Gandhis.
Then there's the matter of international diplomacy. Even their most ardent foes will concede that the Nehru-Gandhis carry themselves with grace and quiet dignity. They have suffered a Kennedyesque history of personal tragedy without flinching, and without displaying signs of bitterness toward their adversaries. They also happen to carry the most famous last name in South Asia. These are attributes that a fast developing but still poor country like India could use. A Queen Sonia or Prince Rahul could open doors for Indian business and buff India's image abroad.
Why, you might ask, would the Nehru-Gandhis be interested in such a course of action? Why settle for pomp when you can have power? For one, judging by the Congress-led government's performance over the past eight years, the family may be in over their heads. Sonia Gandhi's attempt to devolve day-to-day administration to Singh hasn't worked, and his government has become a byword for drift and indecision.