Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi addresses during an interaction with students at Stanford University last year Image Credit: ANI

In a week or two, the schedule of India’s general elections will be announced. In about 10-12 weeks now, we will have a new government in place. The world’s largest election will take place. Some 968 million voters will be eligible to vote, which is more than the combined population of Europe, North America and South America.

In such a massive election, every day of campaigning counts. If you are the face of the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, your task is doubly difficult. After all, your party has been winning barely a tenth of the seats in the lower house of the parliament. India looks more and more like it has only one dominant party, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

While Mallikarjun Kharge is the President of the Indian National Congress, everyone knows who the real boss is. The real boss is Rahul Gandhi. He gets to lead the party’s flagship campaign without holding any post. He is the undeclared prime ministerial candidate.

Rahul Gandhi has been leading a campaign called the “Bharat Jodo Nya Yatra”. In the middle of this Yatra, with just five weeks to go before the first vote is cast, he has flown to the United Kingdom to deliver a lecture to university students at Cambridge University.

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He does this around the year. Rahul Gandhi can miss election campaigns but he doesn’t seem to miss his foreign trips. During an assembly election cycle this past December he took a holiday to Uzbekistan. Now he’s back in Cambridge. He’s been to UK and Cambridge several times this year.

A university may invite its most prominent alumnus once in about ten years to come and speak at a convocation. Rahul Gandhi seems to have become a guest lecturer.

There is no shock, no surprise, no outrage in India that Rahul Gandhi has gone off to deliver another lecture in Cambridge rather than campaign in Calicut. This is what Rahul Gandhi does. This is what is expected of him.

As is often the case, his foreign trip comes at a time when his party is facing multiple crises. The Congress government in Himachal Pradesh is falling. His chosen organisational general secretary KC Venugopal, through whom he effectively controls the party, was found sleeping at the wheel as the BJP poached disgruntled Congress MLAs in Himachal.

Rahul Gandhi’s own safe seat in Wayanad, Kerala, may not have the support of the Communists and may not be safe after all. His family’s turf in Amethi and Rae Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, could be slipping away even further. Spending five days in the family pocket borough of Amethi alone could have demonstrated grit, resolve and commitment to voters across India. But Cambridge beckons.

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Half-hearted about Yatra

Yet nobody cares. You’ll find few even deriding him for this on social media. There was a time when the BJP and its supporters used to create and circulate jokes about him. They no longer do. The parody writes itself. Rahul Gandhi is now too irrelevant to even be ridiculed.

For one excuse or another, the “Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra” has been paused several times now. If there’s one thing that Rahul Gandhi achieved from the original “Bharat Jodo Yatra” last year, it was some accolades that he’s at least willing to demonstrate consistency and commitment. This time, he himself seems to be so half-hearted about the Yatra that he appears to be acknowledging its failure.

For now his supporters can defend him by saying he’s not the party president, it’s not his job if the party is collapsing under the weight of an ever-expansionist BJP. But if the Lok Sabha election results in May show that the Congress party’s seats and vote-share have declined further, voices within the party will ask what the Bharat Jodo Yatra achieved over its two editions? They’ll want to know why the man who enjoys power without responsibility needs to lecture so much at Cambridge.

As Ramachandra Guha once said, Rahul Gandhi is the first member of his family who does not enjoy respect within his party. How are Congress leaders to respect him when he runs off to Europe every two months on some pretext or the other?

Whatever leaders are left in the party might possibly want to remove him and his proxies from decision-making roles in the party. The muted voices to hand over the rein of the party to his sister Priyanka Gandhi will grow louder, whether or not she wants to supersede her brother is another matter.