Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has gone on “leave of absence“ for a few weeks bang at the start of the crucial budget session of Parliament, triggering surprise and befuddlement in Congress ranks along with some mirth in political circles because his sabbatical comes at a time he was widely expected to lead his party's charge against the government.
The Congress leadership said that Gandhi, who is expected to take over the reins of the party from his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi soon, had gone to an undisclosed location for a few weeks to “reflect on recent events related to the party and its future course ahead of the upcoming AICC session“. The Congress scion's so-called vanishing act comes just two days before he was scheduled to lead a high-profile protest organised by his party at Delhi's Jantar Mantar against the government's Land Acquisition ordinance. It predictably surprised many , including most Congress leaders, and sent Delhi abuzz with all kinds of speculation about his possible motives.
Some speculated that that he had “gone into a sulk“ over differences with senior leaders over Congress' future strategies, organisational structure and office bearers. Another theory doing the rounds was that he was probably “readying himself through soul-searching“ for the last lap to succeed his mother. A third said his action possibly presaged a “Sidhartha-like abdication of politics and power“, with those propounding this theory citing his January 2012 speech in Jaipur in which he said “power is poison“.
Responding to media queries in Parliament on her son going on leave, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said: “He has been given a few weeks. He needs some time.“
Yet, Rahul Gandhi's move to leave the Capital right in the middle of its hottest political season -the budget session has just started and when the Modi government is on the defensive after the BJP's loss in the Delhi assembly elections and amid mounting criticism including from within the Sangh Parivar was once again seen as a self-goal of sorts. Congress leaders, who had been girding their loins to fight the government over the land acquisition issue, were left with the unenviable feeling of what one privately said was being in a ship deserted by its captain in the high seas.
Gandhi's sabbatical comes at a time many senior leaders have exhorted him to take over as party president at the upcoming special AICC session in March-April or at a plenary session in August-September. Some senior leaders are of the view that the March-April session could be converted into a three-day plenary for his coronation.