Nehru-Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi was in the eye of a storm recently when he walked out of a meeting of the Parliamentary standing committee on defence following a disagreement over the subject under discussion.
Gandhi wanted the panel to take up an urgent discussion on the Chinese incursion in Eastern Ladakh and not on the uniforms and badges of the armed forces. He left the meeting in protest when the committee chairman Jual Oram intervened to remark that the members had the right to be informed about the rank and structures of the armed forces.
Matters did not rest there as Rahul Gandhi followed this up with a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to complain that he was not allowed to speak freely in the meeting and sought his intervention to ensure that a member’s right to speak is protected.
The BJP lost no time in launching an offensive against the Congress leader. While BJP president JP Nadda slammed Rahul Gandhi for demoralising the valour of the armed forces, Union minister Prakash Javadekar reminded him that a standing committee meeting is not a protest site.
For the BJP, which is constantly on the look-out for issues on which it can attack Rahul Gandhi, this episode came in handy for running him down. Rahul Gandhi may have raised a valid point when he sought a discussion on issues of national security but his remarks had a hollow ring to them because of his continued absence from previous committee meetings. He has put in an appearance at only two of the 14 meetings of the standing committee on defence after its reconstitution in 2019. He also failed to join the other committee members last November for a study tour to the border areas of Nathu La and Tawang.
This should not come as a surprise as Rahul Gandhi has acquired a reputation for being inconsistent and mercurial. His commitment to Parliament is highly questionable. When the Congress was in power from 2004-2014, the Congress MP was invariably seen chatting with members of what was called the party’s “young brigade” during Lok Sabha proceedings. Or he was constantly on the phone. There must have been only a handful of occasions when he was spotted listening attentively to a serious debate. His contribution to the discussions during those ten years was nil.
In the last six years that the Congress has been occupying the opposition benches, Rahul Gandhi’s approach can only be described as erratic. The fact that he did not agree to head the Congress Parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha betrayed his lack of confidence in taking on the Modi-led BJP. Or perhaps he felt the post would tie him down and prevent him from playing hooky.
Rahul Gandhi did make a mark with his speech slamming the Modi government for amending the land acquisition Act soon after it came to power in 2014. His “suit boot ki Sarkar” jibe hit home and galvanised the entire opposition, forcing the Modi government to retrace its steps. He has since then made short interventions which have been more in the nature of rants against the Prime Minister. Instead his Congress colleagues would like to see him make a mature, well-argued and sober speech on a serious issue which would put him in the league of Prime Ministerial contenders.
On the other hand, what they see is an immature Rahul Gandhi. His childishness was on display when he surprised everyone by walking across to the treasury benches during a debate in the Lok Sabha and enveloped Modi in a bear hug to suggest that he harbours no ill will against the Prime Minister. However, he followed this up by winking at his party colleagues. Needless to say, the trolls had a field day.
Congress cadres are also driven to exasperation by Rahul Gandhi’s disappearing acts and periodic holidays to unknown destinations. Five years ago, he took leave of absence for several weeks ahead of a crucial budget session of Parliament just when his party colleagues expected him to lead the charge against the Modi government.
More recently, he took a few days off and went to Shimla in the middle of the Bihar election campaign. Rahul Gandhi was so confident that the Rashtriya Janata Dal alliance would romp home that he was all set to leave for a desert safari in Jaisalmer even before the election results were declared. This vacation did not materialise but he subsequently left for Goa with his mother Sonia Gandhi, prompting a senior Congress leader to remark, “Like everyone else our leader is also working from home.”
In fact, this has been the bane of Congress leaders who have been bemoaning the fact that Rahul Gandhi is not a 24/7 hands on leader, readily accessible to party workers. And now that it is being indicated that the Wayanad MP will take over the reins of the party once more, there is a lurking fear among Congress members that their “leaderless” days are unlikely to end in a hurry.