New Delhi: Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has taken "leave of absence" to reflect on a series of electoral defeats for his party and chart its future course, the party announced Monday, drawing an critical response for the BJP who slammed him for "holidaying" during the "important" budget session of parliament.
In a brief interaction with the media here, party president Sonia Gandhi said: "He (Rahul has been given a few weeks. He needs some time."
Party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi earlier said the vice president requested "some time to reflect on recent events and the future course for the party. This introspection is important for the party in view of the forthcoming All India Congress Committee session".
"The AICC session is of crucial importance and Rahul Gandhi will give inputs for it. So he has been given leave of absence after which he will come back to active participation," Singhvi told reporters here.
However, the entire duration of absence is not known, a party source told IANS. It was also not known where Rahul Gandhi was though a report by Times Now TV channel said he had gone to Bangkok last week.
The explanation for the leave cut no ice with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Hitting out at Rahul Gandhi, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Pratap Rudy said: "This only shows the seriousness of the Congress party. He is holidaying during the budget session."
Part spokesperson Sambit Patra questioned the sagacity of choosing the "important" budget session, especially when Rahul Gandhi who is "not only a party vice president but also a respected parliamentarian".
Patra told IANS that Gandhi's "presence in the parliament would have added to the level of discussions on any issue by the most important leader of the most important party in the opposition".
The absence of Rahul Gandhi from the session, which started Monday with President Pranab Mukherjee's address to a joint sitting, assumes greater significance at a time when parliament is likely to witness a standoff on six ordinances including the controversial one amending the land acquisition bill, that have to be replaced by laws.
However, Congress general secretary Ajay Maken urged all to refrain from "reading too much" into the absence that had no bearing on ensuring an effective agitation over the land ordinance.
"Rahul Gandhi is not an office bearer of the parliamentary party. So the work of the Congress within the house would carry on uninterrupted," Maken told IANS.
Expressing similar sentiments, party leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said the Congress would operate under the guidance of Sonia Gandhi.
Also defending the Congress vice chief who is mostly in news for frequent no-shows when the house is in session, Congress MP Rajiv Shukla said: "He attended the last session very regularly. And he is always present in the house regularly. Now he has gone for some important work somewhere, that does not mean this issue should be blow out of proportion."
However, Nationalist Congress Party MP Praful Patel said since parliament was "an important forum in a democracy where we can discuss and debate, it becomes imperative on all MPs to utilize this platform and miss no opportunity to voice the needs of the people they represent in the house".
But Rahul Gandhi does not face an easy task. The recent Delhi assembly polls - where the party was unable to win a single seat - was the fifth defeat in a row since the 2014 general election and posed a formidable challenge for it to reverse its sliding fortunes ahead of the Bihar assembly polls later this year.
The party vote share has been on a down-slide, dipping to 15 percent in the 2014 general elections and further plummeting to 9.7 percent in the Delhi assembly polls this month.
Hundreds of thousands of traditional Congress supporters from all social segments shifted en masse to the 27-month-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), enabling it to sweep the polls with 67 seats in the 70-member Delhi assembly, relegating the BJP to mere three seats and Congress with none.
The Congress now governs only Assam, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Karnataka and Arunachal Pradesh.