The silence of the number two in Congress, Rahul Gandhi, on the demand for stringent punishment for violence against women, is being used by his critics to press the point that the Nehru scion is no longer a favourite with the youth.

Other than issuing a statement after the death of the Delhi gang-rape victim that, as citizens, we must resolve to respect the dignity of women and follow the laws of the land, Rahul Gandhi has not commented on the protests demanding stringent laws. “I join my mother and sister in offering deep felt condolences to the young girl's family. My thoughts and prayers are with the family,” he had said in his message to the victim’s family.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said Gandhi’s silence on crucial issues raised by the protesters and Opposition parties showed the mindset of the ruling party. BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the yuvraj (prince) of the Congress was celebrating his New Year in a foreign land when the country was mourning the death of the gang-rape victim. “Where was he during such a sensitive time? At the hour of crisis, he was not in the country but was partying in a foreign land,” Naqvi said, and added that Rahul’s silence showed the apathy of the Congress towards the issues raised by the public. “The Congress owes an answer to the public,” he said.

Many critics

V. Lenin Kumar, President of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s students union, said the student fraternity no longer considered Rahul as their leader. “Leaders are evolved, not imposed. Where was he when youth and students were protesting for gender equality? He will not participate in a cause unless it serves his purpose,” added Kumar, who played a key role in organising protests near India Gate and Munirka.

There are critics even in the Youth Congress against Gandhi’s silence. A key Congress activist, who wished to remain anonymous, said the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India would be able to make an impact among the youth and students only if it questioned the current leadership of the Congress and the Government. “NSUI and Youth Congress have lost the ability to question the existing leadership and the system,” the activist said. “Most of the leaders are unable to connect to the aspirations of their generation,” the activist said.

Rahul Gandhi, he said, had inspired ordinary party workers between 2004 and 2009. “His campaigns, such as visiting Dalit homes and campuses around the country, had an impact earlier. Now, the scene is entirely different,” the activist said.

(This article was published on January 4, 2013)
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