Rahul Gandhi skips Sonia’s farewell dinner for PM Manmohan Singh

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NEW DELHI: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was absent from a dinner hosted by party chief Sonia Gandhi for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday evening as he was out of town.

Rahul met the PM last Saturday to thank him for the leadership he has provided the two UPA governments since 2004 and explained that he would not be in Delhi for the dinner hosted by Sonia.

Though there was no official comment from Congress on Rahul’s absence, his decision to be away from the Capital raises questions over whether he is ready to face the fallout of a likely electoral drubbing.

The unanimous conclusion of most exit polls that Congress may touch a historic low in the Lok Sabha polls heralds a testing time for Rahul’s leadership as he must brace for the aftermath of a big defeat.

While the Congress vice-president will find his decisions being questioned within his party, he has to also gear up to be leader of opposition in Lok Sabha as the head of a much reduced party.

Doubts over Rahul’s ability to withstand the intense scrutiny might deepen in the light of his absence after the conclusion of elections, even though he could be back by Friday when election results will be declared.

After Congress’s 4-0 wipeout in four state elections, Rahul did promise radical change in the party, promising to draw adequate lessons from the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi.

But the scale of the loss in Lok Sabha polls – if exit polls are proved right – means that Rahul and Congress could be in for a long haul as the BJP-led NDA might get a comfortable majority in the House.

Clearly, Rahul’s bid to repair damage caused to Congress by anti-corruption movements that led to the birth of AAP has not worked and the party could pay a heavy price for the Manmohan Singh government’s slow reflexes.

At the dinner on Saturday, the PM and his wife Gursharan Kaur were given a warm and affectionate farewell with Sonia greeting both with a bouquet and a memento being presented to the couple.

The memento had the signatures of top Congress leaders and Union ministers and was presented to Singh along with a shawl. Many party leaders sought a picture with the PM and his wife. The dinner was a brief affair, lasting just a little more than an hour.

Sonia’s gesture is in keeping with the unfailing regard she has shown for Singh at all formal occasions. Though she has not hesitated to wield her influence when she felt it necessary, Sonia has always been mindful of protocol and propriety.

Singh would be demitting office on May 17, a day after the Lok Sabha election results are announced. He is scheduled to meet President Pranab Mukherjee to submit his resignation and that of his government.

He had assumed office on May 22, 2009 for his second straight term as prime minister and already holds the distinction of being the third-longest serving head of the Union government after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

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