New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has not visited 17 states even once since the May 2019 Lok Sabha results, five states only once, and five other states twice in the time period. He has, however, visited Kerala, from where he is an MP, eight times since the results.
ThePrint analysed the official visits made by Gandhi in the last year-and-a-half, to trace his footprint across the country since the Congress’ drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections.
Gandhi has visited five states — Maharashtra, Punjab, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan — once each since June 2019.
Gandhi visited Maharashtra in October 2019 for the state election campaigning, Jharkhand ahead of the December 2019 state polls, Chhattisgarh in December 2019 for the inauguration of Rashtriya Adivasi Nritya Mahotsav, and was in Rajasthan in January 2020 for to address a ‘Yuva Aakrosh Rally’ organised by the Congress.
The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance completed one year in government in November, but Gandhi has mostly kept his distance from the state’s affairs. This despite the fact that the state unit of the party keeps witnessing infighting in the state leadership, as well as that with the senior alliance partners — Shiv Sena and NCP.
Most recently, he visited Punjab in October 2020 for a three-day tractor rally against farm laws, where he also conducted a press conference.
5 states visited twice
Gandhi has visited five other states — Haryana, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar — twice in that duration.
Gandhi visited Assam in December 2019 to extend solidarity to the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, and met with the family of the 17-year-old Sam Stafford who died during the protests.
Then he visited Guwahati in November 2020, almost a year later, to pay homage to former Assam CM Tarun Gogoi, who passed away earlier in the month.
Assam is one of the five states going to polls in 2021. The Congress had been in power in the state for three terms since 2001, but lost to the BJP in 2016, which has since then introduced a slew of measures impacting the state — the most significant being the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Gandhi visited Uttar Pradesh twice: Once in July 2019, to visit his former constituency of Amethi, over a month after facing a drubbing there in the Lok Sabha polls, and then in October 2020 to visit the Hathras victim’s family along with his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — after much resistance by the UP Police.
Earlier, in December 2019, Gandhi had tried to enter UP to meet the anti-CAA protestors, but was stopped from entering Meerut by the UP police.
The Congress leader has visited Gujarat twice since his party drew a blank in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He first visited the state in October 2019, where he met with state Congress leader Hardik Patel. He then visited Gujarat’s Bharuch in November 2020 to attend the last rites of veteran leader late Ahmed Patel.
The Congress had performed fairly well in the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections, winning 77 seats and reducing the incumbent BJP to double digits — 99 seats in a 182-member House. But the party lost in all 26 Lok Sabha seats in the state, which were won by the BJP.
The party faced a drubbing in the Bihar polls, winning just 19 of the 70 seats it contested — and was subsequently blamed for dragging down the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan’s overall tally.
‘Reflection of Rahul’s on-and-off politics’
The remaining 17 states haven’t been visited by the former Congress president even once since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls results.
These are Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Uttarakhand.
Among these, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are slated to go to polls in 2021. The Congress hasn’t led the government in Tamil Nadu since 1967, and in West Bengal since 1971.
Gandhi’s absence from Andhra Pradesh is also significant, given how Congress ruled the state for two consecutive terms from 2004 to 2014 but failed to keep the momentum after the bifurcation of the state and creation of Telangana.
Gandhi has also not visited the union territories of Ladakh, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Lakshadweep, Puducherry, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu even once since the 2019 Lok Sabha results.
He did, however, visit Jammu and Kashmir after it was made a union territory following the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. Gandhi led the opposition parties’ delegation to meet various party leaders in Srinagar.
Analysts say the statistics are a reflection of Gandhi’s “on and off” political style.
“If you see all the top BJP leaders, they treat politics like a 24X7 affair. There is no concept of weekends or holidays in politics for them,” said Sandeep Shastri, political scientist and national coordinator of Lokniti network said.
“If Rahul has to match their might, the minimum that he has to do is to appear visible and hit the field. This on and off style of politics won’t do.”
“If Covid impacted his movement, it should have impacted that of BJP leaders too, but one didn’t see that happen,” he added.
Political scientist Suhas Palshikar said Gandhi’s absence from the field points towards a “fundamental confusion in the Congress”.
“Rahul is the leader of the party but he can get away by saying that he is not the president of the party,” Palishkar said. “So here we have a situation where the party president Sonia Gandhi cannot travel due to her ill-health, and the ex-president doesn’t take interest because he doesn’t know what he wants to do. The fault doesn’t lie solely with him, but points to the trouble ailing the party.”
After the Covid lockdown, Gandhi held a series of video interactions since April — with economists Raghuram Rajan and Abhijit Banerjee, health experts Ashish Jha and Johan Giesecke, industrialist Rajiv Bajaj as well as former US diplomat Nicholas Burns.
But Palshikar said that doesn’t work as a good substitute for ground politics. “The real question is if he is interacting with party leaders in all the states, and not if he is interacting with Nobel laureates,” Palshikar said.
The Congress party, however, said that Rahul Gandhi has been active on every relevant issue in the last year-and-a-half.
“Rahul Gandhi was the first leader to step out on the field after the lockdown, and meet and interact with the migrants who were leaving Delhi. There was no other leader who did that,” said Gaurav Vallabh, Congress spokesperson.
“It was Rahul Gandhi who led tractor rallies across Punjab and Haryana against the farm laws,” Vallabh added. “He is the only leader who has been consistently raising the issue of Chinese intrusion in our country, he has raised every relevant issue.”
Visited Kerala 8 times
The one state that Gandhi has visited more than half-a-dozen times is Kerala, owing to the fact that his constituency Wayanad lies there.
Gandhi first visited Wayanad in June 2019, days after winning the Lok Sabha polls from the constituency.
Then in August 2019, Gandhi visited the state twice on separate occasions — both times to visit various districts of the state affected by the massive floods that hit the state last year, including Wayanad.
He visited the state again in late August, on a four-day visit to review relief camps instituted in Wayanad to aid the flood victims.
Gandhi then, in October 2019, participated in the protest against the night traffic ban on a national highway; the stir was led by the Youth Congress.
Gandhi then addressed an anti-CAA rally in Kerala’s Kalpetta in January 2020.
Following this, after a gap of nine months, Gandhi visited his constituency in October 2020, to review the Covid-19 situation in Wayanad.
He then went to see AICC general secretary K.C. Venugopal at his ancestral home in Kannur, to offer his condolences on his mother’s death in November.
So far, Gandhi has made a total of eight visits to the state since winning the Wayanad seat in May 2019. Kerala is also one of the five states going to polls next year.