Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi (file photo: PTI)
The Congress party is struggling to defend its missing vice president Rahul Gandhi, who has skipped town during a crucial session of Parliament. He has been missing for over 6 weeks, and sources in his party now claim that Rahul will return to Delhi on April 12.
His mother Sonia said at public appearances in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh that "Rahul will be with you soon."
That claim was met with a "Are you serious" response from BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.
After all, the impending return of Rahul has been repeated by Congress leaders on several occasions only to turn out false. The party has also been unable to provide details of where Rahul has been spending his "leave of absence", which they describe as an opportunity to "introspect and contemplate."
According to NDTV, the 44-year old went off the political map in February after a series of electoral disasters, where the Congress was wiped out in last year's national election and this year's assembly election in Delhi. Despite the setbacks, his party, centred on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has said Rahul cannot be held accountable. A party gathering next month is expected to promote him to party president, the office currently occupied by his mother.
In the absence of Rahul, Sonia has been forced to take centre stage in the Budget session of Parliament, leading the Opposition's campaign against the government's plans to make land acquisition easier for industrial and key infrastructure projects. Rahul, who has often pledged his commitment to farmers' rights, has been absent for the first half of this parliament session.
His absence has been questioned in the media and derided by his political opponents. Posters emerged in his Amethi constituency last month, declaring that the local MP (Rahul Gandhi) was “missing”.
Pasted at markets, railway and bus stations, the posters titled “Missing Amethi MP” asked people to launch a manhunt to find the “missing” leader.
According to the Congress, Rahul is now expected to address a rally in Delhi on April 19, where Congress leaders plan to attack the government over land reforms.
Once he returns, however, the thorny question of leadership will be raised too. Rahul is expected to take over from his mother, though his recent disappearance will not fill Congress leaders with confidence that he has the commitment and skills needed to revive his party’s fading fortunes.