Rahul Gandhi’s foreign trip close to poll sparks row

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s visit abroad for three to four days at a time when his party is facing tough electoral battles to be held in the key states of Maharashtra and Haryana on October 21 has sparked speculations and controversy in party circles. The timing of Rahul’s trip to Cambodia reportedly to attend a meditation camp has come under spotlight. Questions are being asked if it was his way to express his unhappiness over recent developments in the Congress as some of the younger leaders, considered close to him, have either quit the party or accused the senior leaders in the party of 'unfairly' treating him.

Congress sources maintained Rahul Gandhi is expected to return to India on Wednesday and would be campaigning in the assembly polls in Maharashtra and Haryana where the party faces an uphill task of defeating ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Neither Rahul, nor his mother Sonia Gandhi, current party chief, has so far hit the campaign trail in the two states so far.

The speculation in political circles mainly for two reasons: (1) with the Congress most likely to lose in both the states, the Gandhi family members do not want to be blamed for the party's failure and (2) two, it is reflective of the continuing power struggle within the party between the old guard and the young leaders.

Rahul wants the party's seniors to be held accountable for the losses and step down owning up responsibility as he had done in May soon after the Congress abject defeat in national elections. Since the return of Sonia Gandhi as the party's interim president on August 10, several younger leaders of the Congress have gone public against the party's veterans.

Some Congress leaders believe he is not happy over the sidelining of his appointees. For instance, party leader in Haryana Ashok Tanwar, who quit the party last Saturday, was always seen as a Rahul confidante. Tanwar, who was replaced by Sonia as the head of the party’s Haryana unit chief, had argued there was a conspiracy in the party to eliminate young leaders groomed by Rahul. Sources close to Rahul, however, reject that. Tanwar’s post has gone to party veteran Bhupinder Singh Hooda, former chief minister of Haryana.

"In the last few years, numerous conspiracies are being hatched to eliminate all those young leaders who have been groomed by Shri Rahul Gandhi in the last one and half decade. Unfortunately, most victims of this conspiracy may not have the courage to stand up, but I think it is my moral duty to resist, oppose and expose this onslaught,” Tanwar had said in a letter to Sonia Gandhi after resigning as a primary member of the party.

Similar charges were levelled by the former Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam, former Jharkhand Congress chief Ajay Kumar who joined the Aam Admi Party (AAP), former Tripura Congress chief Pradyot Dev Burman who quit from his party post and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu of Punjab who resigned as a minister after a tiff with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

For the record, Congress, while reacting to reports that Rahul Gandhi was abroad when Assembly poll Haryana and Maharashtra were round the corner, said personal life should not be mixed with politics. “In India’s democratic tradition, there is a difference between personal and public life and personal liberty has always been respected,” Congress national secretary Pranav Jha told reporters on Monday when asked to comment on Rahul going abroad.

“Those who have tried to create a controversy over the issue or those people and institutions who are misusing their powers to make public the personal visits of some leaders should respect personal liberty,” Jha added.