File photo of Rahul Gandhi at Veer Bhumi.
Rahul Gandhi at Rajiv Gandhi's memorial, Veer Bhoomi | ANI file photo
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New Delhi: Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi was missing again as Delhi and other parts of India were engulfed by protests over violence at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus Sunday night. 

In his absence, his sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra visited AIIMS hospital in Delhi to meet the students and professors injured in the violence.

Rahul, sources told ThePrint, is travelling abroad. They said he left Thursday and is likely to return in the next couple of days. 

Rahul’s absence has Twitter buzzing, with many wondering where the former party chief is off to this time and others urging him to visit the JNU campus to extend solidarity to the victims. 

In 2016, when former JNU Students Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on charges of sedition for his alleged involvement in a campus protest where Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s execution was criticised, Rahul visited the university to protest against the arrest. The BJP, including president Amit Shah, had subsequently criticised Rahul for supporting“anti-India” activities, but he stood his ground. 

This time, however, Rahul has restricted his criticism to Twitter. 

Students and teachers at JNU were allegedly beaten up and property damaged on the campus Sunday evening during a gathering organised by the teachers’ association of the university (JNUTA) over the fee hike. 

Footage from the campus showed unprecedented chaos as a lathi-wielding mob could be seen hitting students and professors, many of whom were left bleeding. Nearly 40 people sustained injuries in the attack.

Soon after, people across India came out in spontaneous protests against the violence and the police’s alleged failure to arrest any of the assailants. 


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Absent at crucial times

The former Congress chief’s absence at crucial junctures — for example, during the campaigns for the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections late last year — has caused much heartburn in the party. 

While he addressed more rallies in Jharkhand, he flew to Seoul in the last week of the campaign, leaving Priyanka to fill in for him

He was still in Seoul when Delhi Police allegedly cracked down on a peaceful protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at Jamia Millia Islamia on 15 December. 

It was Priyanka again who took the lead by joining protesters at India Gate. 

Rahul later clarified that he was on an official trip to meet the South Korean Prime Minister. 

The Congress core committee subsequently met to discuss the party’s strategy to take on the Modi government on the controversial CAA, which is seen as a precursor to a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). 

Rahul was not present at that meeting too, a leader who participated in it told ThePrint. He, however, led the party’s ‘Satyagraha for Unity’ at Rajghat on 28 December, which was first conceptualised at the meeting.

Rahul was also missing from the first week of the winter session of Parliament that began 18 November. He was on a two-week Vipassana for which he took off at the end of October.

It was the same trip that led the Congress to twice postpone its “Bharat Bachao” protests to corner the Modi government on the economic slowdown.  


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‘Withdrawn, inconsistent’

Rahul served a less than two-year term as Congress chief before resigning earlier this year over the party’s dismal performance in the Lok Sabha elections.

His lack of involvement has especially upset party leaders in light of his likely return as party chief. 

“The Bharat Bachao rally, the Jharkhand campaign and the satyagraha, all of them were planned in a certain way to set the stage for Rahul’s return,” a senior Congress leader said. 

However, multiple Congress leaders complained that he has become withdrawn. 

“He (Rahul) hasn’t been meeting people,” said a second senior Congress leader. “Some of us have repeatedly asked for meetings (but) to no avail.” 

“My biggest problem with Rahul Gandhi is his inconsistency,” a third senior Congress leader added. “He built momentum ahead of the Lok Sabha elections but completely undid it after the loss. It isn’t a responsible way to act.”  

However, party spokesperson and former minister of state for home R.P.N. Singh was quick to defend Rahul. “He was there for all the Congress programmes, whether it was his visit to Assam, Chhattisgarh or campaigning in Jharkhand,” he said. “What is more shocking is the silence of the prime minister and the home minister.” 


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