DAYS AFTER Congress announced that Rahul Gandhi will kick off the party’s campaign for the forthcoming elections in Punjab by addressing a rally in Moga on January 3, the party postponed the event after it emerged that the senior party leader had flown abroad on a personal visit.
Sources said Rahul left India on Wednesday, a day after attending the party’s 137th foundation day event at the AICC headquarters in Delhi. Sources said he is set to ring in the new year in Italy, where he will spend time with his aging maternal grandmother, like last year.
“Rahul Gandhi is on a brief personal visit. The BJP and its media friends should not spread rumours unnecessarily,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said, confirming that the former Congress president was abroad.
Party sources said Rahul, who spent nearly three weeks at an undisclosed foreign location in November as well, is expected to address the rallies in Punjab and Goa on January 15 and 16.
Rahul’s trip abroad has led to disquiet in the Punjab unit of Congress as it comes at a time when the party is struggling with factionalism and desertions in the run-up to the Assembly elections. The Moga rally was expected to be a show of unity, said a party leader who did not want to be named.
The party had started making arrangements, and the venue had been finalised, said state party leaders. “We did not even know he has gone abroad. We learnt about it only after the Opposition raised the issue and Surjewala defended the visit,” said a leader.
“The rally has been postponed now. We were hoping that Rahul will be able to bring Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, PPCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and other leaders on the same stage and the different voices, which are harming the party interests, would be silenced. Also, his (Rahul) absence delays the process of ticket distribution,” he said.
While Sidhu has been seeking declaration of Chief Minister candidate ahead of the polls, asserting that he would not be just a showpiece for the elections, a section of party leaders said they were watching him closely. A party leader said, “We were hoping that the top leadership would intervene and control Sidhu. But it seems to be free for all now.”