Where’s Rahul? The times when the Congress leader went ‘Missing in Action’

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Oh, Rahul!

On Tuesday, images of Rahul Gandhi at a nightclub went viral on Twitter, with members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters taking potshots at the Congress leader for ‘popping bottles’.

The issue soon became prime time news, with many questioning the Congress leader’s decision to party away while his own unit crumbles — the Congress faces a ‘Hardik Patel problem’, violence broke out in the Congress-ruled Rajasthan and poll strategist Prashant Kishor refused to accept a position in the party.

The Congress hit back, stating that the Gandhi was visiting Kathmandu for a friend’s wedding and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it and it was much less egregious than Prime Minister Narendra Modi making a surprise visit to former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif's daughter's wedding in 2015.

News agency PTI quoted a report in The Kathmandu Post and said the Congress leader was in Kathmandu to attend the wedding of his Nepali friend Sumnima Udas.

Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala, defending Rahul said to the media, “Last when I checked, having a family in this country, having friends in this country, attending marriage, engagement ceremonies is a matter of our culture and civilisation. It has still not become a crime in this country to be married, to be friends with someone, or to attend their marriage celebration.

“Maybe after today Prime Minister Modi and the BJP may decide that it is illegal to attend a marriage. They may say it is a crime to have friends or participate in family functions. But do let me know so that we all change our status, habits and civilisational practices of attending the marriage of friends as also family.”

However, this isn’t the first time that Rahul has faced the music for his ‘disappearances’ or ‘sabbaticals’. In 2015, after the Congress faced an electoral drubbing of epic proportions, the Gandhi scion had taken an impromptu break from politics on 23 February and has returned to India after 53 days.

We trace back the many holidays of Rahul Gandhi and how it became news each time he packed his bags for a break.

Rahul’s 53-day sabbatical

In February 2015, Twitter was abuzz with hashtags #WhereisRahul and #RahulonLeave when it was reported that the Gandhi had packed his bags and made his way for an impromptu leave, surprisingly right before the Budget Session of Parliament.

Reports had stated that he was miffed about not getting a “free hand” in the Congress. Debates and rumours abounded — some said he was in Uttarakhand, while others reported that he was travelling to Vietnam, or to Myanmar.

While the Congress officially chose to stay mum on their leader’s absence while the country debated on the Land Acquisition Bill, ‘missing’ posters appeared on railway stations, bus stops and markets in Gandhi’s constituency of Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh.

Rahul’s absence also led to a meme fest on Twitter.

On 16 April, Rahul Gandhi arrived in New Delhi on a Thai Airways plane from Bangkok, which led to ##RahulReturns, #RahulGandhi and #PappuRahul trend on Twitter.

Six foreign tours in two years

Following his 2015 sojourn, Rahul’s flyaway status didn’t stop. In fact between 2015 and 2017, he was out for 72 days on six foreign tours, which included places in the United Kingdom, United States, Turkey and Italy.

According to government data, he had also made 121 domestic trips in the two years, violating his own security conditions in 100 of them.

Holidays ahead of polls

In 2019, Rahul once again received flak for his ‘break’ ahead of the Assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra.

Several programs organised by the Congress to target the Narendra Modi administration on the state of the economy had to be pushed back owing to the Congress leader’s absence.

If his absence wasn’t enough in October, he once again was missing in action in December when the country witnessed massive anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests.

The Opposition leader was in South Korea for an event. Gandhi had tweeted a picture of his meeting with Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon. “As a part of an official delegation, I today met with the PM of the Republic of Korea, His Excellency, Lee Nak-yon and other officials, in Seoul. We discussed a wide range of issues, including the current political & economic situation in our respective countries (sic),” Gandhi said in his tweet.

The South Korea sojourn also meant that he missed the last leg of the Jharkhand election campaign, leaving his sister Priyanka Gandhi to fill in at a rally in Pakur.

Giving the Monsoon Session a miss

In September 2020, he skipped the Monsoon Session of Parliament as he accompanied his mother, Sonia, abroad for her annual medical check-up. His absence came at a crucial time — during the passage of the three controversial farm bills in Parliament.

In December of the same year, he was off once to Italy. This time the Congress said he had gone to meet an ailing relative and his grandmother and was not on a holiday.

His absence promoted the BJP to take swipes at him and his party, with Giriraj Singh tweeting, “Rahul Gandhi’s holiday in India has ended and he has gone back to Italy.”

Randeep Surjewala defended Rahul, saying, “Rahul Gandhi has gone out on a short personal visit to meet up with an ailing relative, who is seriously sick. He has not gone out on a holiday. He also meets up with his maternal grandmother this time of the year, every year. I don't think the BJP should have objections to him visiting an ailing relative.”

2021’s New Year break

The Wayanad MP left India in December 2021 and made his way to Italy to ring in the New Year. Interestingly, his was just a month after his return from foreign shores post a long break ahead of the Winter Session of the Parliament.

Unavailable for Prashant Kishor

Only last month, when the Congress top leadership was engaged in serious parleys with poll strategist Prashant Kishor, the Gandhi scion went abroad on a personal visit.

NDTV had reported that the Congress leader was MIA as the party held deliberations with Kishor. India Today too had reported that Rahul Gandhi had left for a foreign destination about a week ago while leaving the Congress party in a state of political turmoil.

With inputs from agencies

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Where’s Rahul? The times when the Congress leader went ‘Missing in Action’
Where’s Rahul? The times when the Congress leader went ‘Missing in Action’
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