The Great 'Relaunch': Is Globetrotter Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Padayatra’ Already Set For Failure?
For Congress to redeem itself, it first needs to come clean about Rahul Gandhi’s secret foreign trips.
Rahul Gandhi is gearing up for another of his many re-launches. This time, his ‘coming of age’ would take place as he traverses across India. According to Congress, a padayatra that Rahul Gandhi is supposed to lead would cover the length and breadth of the country, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.
Through this, the Congress would be aiming to reinstate Gandhi as a leader not averse to taking to the streets. From a marketing angle, the attempts to position him as a thinker, that goes beyond the humdrum of brazen politics, have failed to cut ice with the masses. ‘Politics is in your pants’ to ‘Poverty is just a state of mind’, Gandhi’s statements hold a coveted place in the meme world, but it does not make him a politician that should be taken seriously.
This disconnect has a lot to do with the double life Gandhi scion prefers to live. His foreign trips shrouded in secrecy make him appear as an unreliable leader. During the worst crisis within the Congress and sometimes, at a national level, the former INC President has been found missing in action, sometimes even caught partying, when he should have been standing with his people.
His flights of absence not only demoralise his cadre but also provide enough fodder to the BJP to dismiss him as a “tourist” and a “part-time politician”. Even Congress’s long-time allies and co-ideologists have started to publicly acknowledge the damage Gandhi’s jet-setting ways, in the middle of a crisis, have done to the credibility of the opposition.
NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, in a post-Bihar elections analysis, noted that Rahul Gandhi lacked consistency. In the Bihar state elections, the 'Mahagathbandhan' led by RJD lost several seats where Congress was contesting from. The RJD leaders blamed Congress for dragging the alliance down. In fact, one of the RJD leaders alleged that Rahul Gandhi was on a picnic in Shimla when elections were in full swing in the state.
Though, how much of a difference could Gandhi’s presence really make to Congress’s already dismal fortunes could be contended, it cannot be disputed that his secret trips have turned it into a liability for its allies.
Mamata Banerjee, fresh from her victory in the Bengal elections is positioning herself to lead the opposition in 2024, replacing Congress. She has even taken a dig at Gandhi scion for being "abroad half the time”. A charge that even the best of Congress ecosystem cannot defend.
After completely decimating Congress in Delhi and Punjab, AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal is planning inroads in other states where Congress is a major force. More than the BJP, it is the regional players, who are increasingly eyeing Congress’ vote share and are successfully capturing it.
For Congress, that does not seem to be a cause of concern at all. During election time, Gandhi has often gone missing, putting his party spokespersons in a lurch. In December 2021, ahead of elections in five states, Gandhi flew to Italy for a personal visit. Congress was completely wiped off in Punjab, where it was hoping to retain power. It failed to form a government in Goa as well. In the other three states, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, Congress did not have anything to write home about.
While other members of his party were huddling up, Rahul Gandhi was caught at a Kathmandu nightclub. The difference between the two realities could not be starker.
Recently, when Congress announced the ‘Bharat Jodo’ Yatra, it also made people know that again Rahul Gandhi is not in the country and would return in a few days.
The issue of Rahul Gandhi taking frequent leaves to undisclosed locations takes a sinister turn when the possible ramifications on the nation’s well-being are considered. Gandhi has been accused of not taking SPG officers on his foreign visits or informing them about his travel plans only at the last minute.
During a discussion on the Special Protection Group (SPG) Bill, Home Minister Amit Shah revealed that between 2015 and 2019, Rahul Gandhi travelled abroad 247 times, which translates to an average of five trips a month. On most of these trips, he did not take SPG officers along with him. This leads one to question his clandestine visits. Why is it that nobody is allowed to know about the details of the significant time Gandhi spends out of the country?
The trips that do make news also are also not without controversies. In May, Rahul Gandhi flew to Cambridge to attend a conference. On expected lines, he used the platform to speak ill of the Indian institutions and democracy. He also repeated his claim that ‘India is not a nation. It is a Union of States’ and refused to retract his statement, even when he was called out for mouthing such misinformation.
During the same visit, he also met Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, known for questioning whether J&K are an integral part of India or not. Back home, it was found that being an MP, Gandhi did not take due political clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend such an event. He broke the rule perhaps because he considers himself above the law.
When Rahul Gandhi is peddling the theory of ‘India is not a nation’ world over, Congress expects the nation to trust its ‘Bharat Jodo’ mission. This is one of the many many contradictions emanating from Congress’s own leadership.
For Congress to redeem itself, it first needs to come clean about Rahul Gandhi’s secret foreign trips. Otherwise, no extensive padayatras could salvage the party’s sliding fortunes.
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