Rahul Gandhi does it again: Skips Lok Sabha debate, lets party down

Rahul Gandhi shied away from the debate on communal violence that he forced by leading a protest in Lok Sabha, defying enormous pressure from within that he speak on the party’s top concern and raising eyebrows in friendly quarters. The Congress vice-president sat quietly during the second day of the debate which saw Congress and BJP spar with claims and counter-claims.

The same happened on Thursday when Congress leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjuna Kharge opened the discussion to slam the BJP, only to find saffronite Yogi Adityanath resort to strident Hindutva rhetoric. Sources said there was considerable push from party managers that Rahul lend his face to the allegation that communal incidents were on the rise since the advent of the Narendra Modi government.

More so, when Rahul last week found it serious enough an issue to lead the party contingent in Lok Sabha into the well with sloganeering and, later, even accuse the Speaker of partisan behavior. “I don’t know why he did not speak. The party wanted him to and had repeatedly nudged him to take the mike,” a party MP, in the know of things, said. Another party MP expressed similar surprise, pointing out that Rahul appeared to prepare a speech. The AICC vice-president is also said to have made preparations for the debate.

It again highlighted the Gandhi scion’s reluctance to plunge into parliamentary proceedings that would involve sparring with the rivals and, in the aftermath of the electoral debacle, face snide comments from Hindutva champions. Having played a key role in ensuring that the debate takes place, Rahul’s disappearing act let down the Congress MPs who argued that he should have finally assumed a more engaged leadership in Parliament. “Nobody knows why such a sharp person shrinks in crunch situations,” a young Congress MP said.

While some feel Rahul developed cold feet because his espousal of the sensitive issue would help BJP with religious polarization, it does not tally with the tone adopted by the Congress leadership lately. Party chief Sonia Gandhi for two days in a row this week accused the Modi government of having a role in the rise in communal incidents, once at a rally in Kerala and then at the meeting of the parliamentary party.

One reason for Rahul to keep away could be that BJP punctured the profile of the debate. It fielded a Hindutva leader like Adityanath to lead its case and then fell back on young members, not appearing to give it the importance that Congress attached to it. The absence of home minister Rajnath Singh to reply to the debate because of illness further dimmed the political interest.

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