Two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi showcased Indian culture in Houston, USA, and diplomacy at the United Nations, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was reported to have left for Cambodia on Saturday on a private visit to, apparently, do some soul searching on how to reinvent himself. This at a time when the his fledgling Grand Old Party (GOP) is struggling to keep its flock together in the face of the NDA’s bid to retain power after Assembly polls in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana on October 21.
Meanwhile, according to media reports, the Centre has issued fresh guidelines related to the Special Protection Group (SPG) security cover to the Gandhi family, making it mandatory for the SPG personnel to accompany them at all times whenever they travel abroad. Until now, the SPG accompanied them till their first location abroad and then return to India, leaving the Gandhis to prefer their privacy.
The new guidelines also made it mandatory for the Gandhi family to provide all details related to their travel plans and also make available information about their past few hours as well. Non-acceptance of these guidelines could lead to curtailment of their overseas visits due to security considerations, the reports said.
It remains to be seen how Rahul follows this up. He has often been incommunicado when abroad.
This is nothing new for Gandhi. Even in the past, at crucial hours, he has suddenly flown abroad, apparently to recharge his low batteries! Every time he flew out, his GOP has struggled hard to somehow ‘justify’ his overseas forays. On Sunday also, party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhavi did the same.
The intensely faction-ridden party, now virtually controlled by the Ahmed Patel-led Old Guard—in the name of “Interim President” Sonia Gandhi—is now so crippled that few even now notice the daily exodus of important state leaders to other parties, mostly to the BJP. And they usually blame the Old Guard for systematically cutting to size the younger leaders brought in by Rahul Gandhi. When senior leaders Sanjay Nirupam (Maharashtra), Ashok Tanwar (Haryana) and Kirit Pradyot Deb Barman (Tripura) quit the party recently, they pointed to the sidelining of the Rahul associates.
It looks like the Congress Old Guard has sidelined Gandhi himself! Still sulking after resigning as Congress President on May 25, he has been avoiding participation in different events. Even when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on Sonia Gandhi, only Priyanka was present. This amply demonstrated Gandhi’s growing disinterest in his own party. He is now barely seen in public, except a visit to his flood-affected constituency in Kerala, or some activity on the Twitter.
If Congress sources are to be believed, Rahul would practice ‘vipassana’ meditation in Cambodia, a move that has left his close confidantes in confusion. Although the party has claimed that he will return soon and campaign for the GOP’s candidates in poll-bound states, he is unlikely to be showcased, contrary to the Lok Sabha elections, as the party’s face in the campaign, nor canvass aggressively.
The young guard he created as a pressure group within the party to fight off the wily Old Guard is leaderless and restless. His close associates—Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot etc—have often spoken at variance from the party’s policies and opinions, even if it meant indirect support to the BJP-NDA Government, as in the Article 370 case. No wonder if they, too, jump the sinking ship at an opportune time. The vice-like grip of the Old Guard, many of them unelectable in any direct election, has left the party comatose.
When Indira Gandhi wanted to take charge of the party in 1969 and then 1977, the erstwhile Old Guard opposed her moves; now it is Rahul’s own mother who is yet to decide whether she supports her son more or the Old Guard!
But the entire blame cannot be put on the Old Guard itself. Despite nearly a decade of “apprenticeship”, Rahul has often demonstrated his political immaturity, the most glaring one being when he publicly tore off Cabinet decisions made by the UPA Government led by Dr Manmohan Singh. The Old Guard is rightly apprehensive that his immaturity could cost the party immeasurably.
Many senior leaders, for instance, were not in favour of Rahul attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi directly on the Rafale issue; so, even after being instructed by him, many leaders declined to follow him on this. So much so that the seniors did not even bother to respond to the WhatsApp group messages created for this purpose.
The Lok Sabha election results left Rahul shell-shocked and he has since been sulking. He even blamed Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot and Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath with ignoring the Congress party’s larger interests to protect turfs of their own sons. But they are members of the well-entrenched Old Guard; nothing happened to them!
Apparently, Sonia is creating a situation to call back Rahul as party chief. For this, her son might place certain conditions—liquidation of the Old Guard, for instance!—which she might agree do. Sonia and Rahul would possibly use the alibi of promising young leaders’ exit as the alibi to liquidate the Old Guard.
Rahul’s latest meditation tour of Cambodia may just mean a slow beginning of his return as Congress President.