Congress president Sonia Gandhi was not present on the occasion, reportedly due to health reasons. In her absence, former defence minister and senior party leader AK Antony did the honours.
If the developments in the Congress in the last few years are to be analysed, there is a clear message that Rahul Gandhi has tried to convey by skipping the party’s Foundation Day celebrations – that he is unwilling to don the mantle of the party president again.
Talking to the timesofindia.com on the condition of anonymity, a senior Congress leader said: “There can be no other reason for Rahul Gandhi skipping the party’s foundation day ceremony. It is a deliberate attempt by him to tell the senior party leaders that he is not going to accept the president’s post in the present circumstances.”
The leader reasoned out that there was no urgency for Rahul Gandhi to leave a day before the special occasion of the Congress which his father, grandmother, great grand-father and great great-father have led in the past and his mother is heading at present. He himself was the party president for about a couple of years and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is currently its general secretary, he said.
Rahul Gandhi quit as Congress president soon after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, owning moral responsibility for the humiliating defeat under his stewardship. He ignored all pressures not to step down from the post.
The source said, “A groundwork is being prepared by a section of influential leaders to anoint him again to the post. However, he is said to be against such a move.”
He further said just a few days ago, senior party leaders, including those who have demanded sweeping changes in the party, met him. “However, Rahul Gandhi was adamant not to return as party president,” he said, and added that skipping the foundation day event is a move to reiterate his position.
What the source said could be corroborated from Rahul Gandhi’s participation in the same event in the last five years since 2016.
Sonia Gandhi as Congress president was not present on the party’s 132nd foundation day in 2016 too. Rahul Gandhi as general secretary had hoisted the party flag that year.
Rahul Gandhi was declared as the Congress president in the midst of the Gujarat assembly elections in December 2017. He hoisted the party flag on the party’s 133rd foundation day.
He again hoisted the flag in 2018 as the Congress president.
However, he quit as Congress chief in mid-2019 soon after the Lok Sabha election results were declared. Since then, except for being a Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad in Kerala, he does not hold any party post.
But he was present at the party headquarters 24, Akbar Road when Sonia Gandhi hoisted the party flag last year on the 135th foundation day.
The situation remains the same this year too as far as Rabul Gandhi’s position in the party is concerned, just that pressure is being mounted on him to replace his mother. This makes the situation exceptional from his skipping Monday’s special event.
Quoting sources, news agency PTI said that Rahul Gandhi left for Milan in Italy on a Qatar Airways flight on Sunday morning.
Former Congress national spokesperson Sanjay Jha, who remains suspended by the party, felt there was something amiss in the former Congress president’s absence. “I think Rahul must be more sensitive about his public perception. If indeed he has gone to meet his ailing grandmother then the Congress party’s official communication has blundered by being opaque and obfuscating. But if Rahul has just taken a short break, then it is awkward for the Congress as he missed the 136th celebrations of the party which was less than 24 hours away,” he told the timesofindia.com.
Rahul Gandhi’s former aide Pankaj Shankar also tweeted about his destination.
The future @INCIndia Presidentcelebrating #CongressFoundationDay in #Milan ! #Congress #RahulGandhi… https://t.co/bLXOvEKe6e
— Pankaj Shankar 🎬 पंकज शंकर (@pankaj_shankar) 1609124999000
Senior Congress leaders have come to his defence. Rajya Sabha MP and party general secretary KC Venugopal said, “Rahul Gandhi has gone to see his grandmother. Is it wrong? Everybody has the right to undertake personal visits. BJP is indulging in low-level politics. They are targeting Rahul Gandhi because they want to target only one leader.”
Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has left for abroad for a short personal visit and will be away for a few days.”
Former Union minister Salman Khurshid said, “There could have been 101 reasons for his absence. We don’t want to speculate. If he took a call it must be for a valid reason… Priyanka ji is here.”
However, the BJP attacked Rahul Gandhi for his absence. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said in a tweet: “Congress here is celebrating its 136th foundation day and Rahul Gandhi has disappeared.”
He later said, “It’s so unfortunate for Congress that the person who has been its president and is also considered for the post is absent on the foundation day of the party. Nobody knows which country he is in. His absence raises several questions about him and his part.”