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Missing Neta: How Rahul's Ill-Timed Absences Are Worrying Congress

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's summer vacation comes at a time when he has been pitching himself as the messiah of the less privileged, who, according to him, have been given a raw deal by the ruling BJP.

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18pallavighcnnibn

Updated:June 19, 2017, 7:21 AM IST
Missing Neta: How Rahul's Ill-Timed Absences Are Worrying Congress
File photo of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.
New Delhi: On June 9, 2017, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi storms into Mandsaur, blames Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the mounting farm distress, and eventually gets detained. His colleagues cry foul and hail the young politician for talking about issues that matter.

Cut to June 13, 2017, Rahul tweets: "Will be travelling to meet my grandmother & family for a few days. Looking forward to spending time with them!" Twitter is buzzing, and so are the power corridors of the national capital. His colleagues, who hailed his Mandsaur move earlier, now have their faces in their hands, exasperated.

Gandhi's summer vacation comes at a time when he has been pitching himself as the messiah of the less privileged, who, according to him, have been given a raw deal by the ruling BJP. His little break has put his claims on uncertain grounds, especially for those who did see some promise in his words. That included his own party men.

Soon after Gandhi left, a group of Congress leaders met at a plush restaurant on Lodhi Road to discuss how the party was to react to their leader's holiday at a time when the country was going through a major crisis, especially in the absence of a strong opposition.

"Every time we think we have a grip on things and the workers get enthused, the man of the hour leaves. It's okay for him to visit his family, but he could have postponed his visit by a few days," said one of the leaders present at the discreet meeting.

The Congress leaders discussed how BJP would now tear into them. They fear BJP calling Gandhi incapable of seeing his vision through or of carrying his campaign to its fruitful end.

The party, soon, scuttled to save the situation. Senior leader Randeep Surjewala issued a statement saying Gandhi was always there to lead the party on issues that matter to the people of India. Two days later, in what seemed like a cue, Gandhi took to Twitter: "Startup India, Stand up India, Right turn India: but no jobs for the youth of India!"

Soon, we saw his close aide Jyotiraditya Scindia retracing his steps in Mandsaur, and eventually getting arrested. The party tried to make a point: with or without Gandhi's physical presence, Congress would continue to work on things, under his guidance.

The timing of his vacation, however, is still being seen with prying eyes, even within the party circle. While sources close to the leader said Gandhi's grandmother was very ill and had insisted Gandhi come and see her, there are many others who think that the he could have waited.

While placing family over politics, Gandhi may have given his rivals the occasion to rake up a his previous 'holidays'. This time around, too, the saffron party was quick to take a jibe at him and say that Gandhi was off on a summer vacation.

The incident is a stark reminder of the 50-day sabbatical that Gandhi took after the party's drubbing in 2014. The mystery of his then vacation still remains. The only thing that people were sure of was his renewed energy and revived aggression in terms of attacks on the Modi government. Jibes like suit boot ki Sarkar rang in the ears of everyone and the party was enthused. But, soon, the party faced another humiliating defeat in the Uttar Pradesh elections and Gandhi just stood there smiling.

"Rajiv Gandhi too had drawn criticism with his annual holidays to Kanha, Ranthambore, Andaman, and Lakshwadeep. His son's timing of holidays is worse because it coincides with his birthday on 19th June. So many might think this holiday is more like a birthday party. But at a time when the presidential polls are around the corner and the farmer agitation is only getting worse, he'll be mocked for his time off,' said political analyst Rasheed Kidwai, adding that he should try and club his holidays with events and functions abroad, to put opposition jibes at bay.

His mother, Sonia, meanwhile has taken it upon herself to rally the opposition together and put a strong face for the presidential polls. Her efforts, however, may not be enough.

"If Rahul Gandhi is set to become the chief, he must act a bit more sharply. Taking holidays and breaks at a timing of his choice will not work. Political ambition will go for a toss if he continues this," said a party insider, on condition of anonymity.

Despite continuous tweets slamming government action or inaction over issues, Gandhi's holiday has put into question his skills as a leader and many in the party are in knots on how to react. BJP chief Amit Shah's speeches and road trips ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, which are still two years from now, have further forced the Congress leaders to chew their nails.

"We are still waiting for him to come up with a roadmap. We're far from hitting the road in the first place," said the source.

While the Gandhi scion enjoys his family time, how well his party fares in keeping things together in the face of a strong and raging saffron party is yet to be seen.

ALSO READ | Rahul Gandhi leaves for US to visit his ailing grandmother: Sources

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| Edited by: Bijaya Das
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