A political storm raged Thursday over Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi skipping the farewell dinner hosted by his mother and party chief Sonia Gandhi for Manmohan Singh, with the BJP accusing him of “insulting” the Prime Minister.
“Where has the Congress’ PM candidate gone? …Sonia Gandhi had insulted (former Congress president) Sitaram Kesri. In similar manner, Rahul Gandhi has insulted Manmohan Singh who headed their government for 10 years,” BJP’s Tarun Vijay said.
Though not declared the party’s PM candidate, Rahul, 43, was the Congress’ face for 2014 elections and was tasked with leading the grand old party’s campaign.
There was intense speculation about his destination. Everyone knew he was out of town but where? Answers were hard to come by. Privately, some Congress leaders suggested he had gone to Myanmar — he often goes there for vipassana (meditation) — after three months of gruelling campaign. Others packed him off to London and still others said he was visiting Dubai for two days.
HT’s phone calls and text messages to Gandhi’s office and aides went unanswered.
This is not the first time that Rahul has come under opposition fire for his “disappearing act”. He was not in Delhi when the rape of a physiotherapy student onboard a moving bus brought the Capital to a halt in December 2012.
Back in the Capital, Rahul, however, did not attend a meeting of spokespersons called Thursday to chalk out the party’s media strategy for Friday — the counting day.
The party’s statement that Rahul had met the PM Saturday and told him that he wouldn’t be there for the dinner did not stop opponents from having a go at the Gandhi scion.
The Shiv Sena accused Rahul of behaving like a shehzada (prince) — a jibe often taken at him by BJP’s Narendra Modi. “The Prime Minister governed India for 10 years. If you cannot spare time for him...How will you give time to your party and the country?” party spokesperson Sanjay Raut said.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Ashutosh said Rahul’s absence proved that “he is not ready to learn to take the responsibility”.
Party seniors were quick to jump to Rahul’s defence. “The question of insult does not arise. Rahul Gandhi is abroad and he has gone there after thanking the Prime
Minister and taking his permission,” Satyavrat Chaturvedi said.
Party general secretary Digvijaya Singh reminded that Rahul’s office had released a statement that he had called on the PM before going abroad.
Union minister Rajiv Shukla hit out at the BJP and the Shiv Sena, saying the two were in the habit of attacking the Gandhi family and Rahul in particular.