The Congress has had to wear its brave face as it fields taunts from political rivals over vice-president Rahul Gandhi's prolonged absence from Delhi. Now, prominent leader Sandeep Dikshit has scripted another awkward moment by asserting that the party needs Sonia Gandhi to continue as chief in its moment of deep crisis.
Mr Dikshit told NDTV today that after the gigantic electoral setback to the Congress in the national elections last year, and with the party in crisis, "There is no need to think of a change in leadership. We need the best general to fight for the party."
Asked if Rahul Gandhi was not that best general, Mr Dikshit would only say, "It is up to you how you want interpret my statement." Mrs Gandhi, the two-time MP said, alone has the stature to consolidate the support of other opposition parties against the BJP-led ruling NDA.
The Congress is seen as prepping to appoint Mr Gandhi, 44, as party president in place of his mother Sonia, who is its longest serving chief. Mr Gandhi was in fact widely tipped to take over this month at a session of the All India Congress Committee or AICC.
But Rahul Gandhi, who left Delhi in February for a sabbatical - his party calls it "introspection" - is yet to return. He has already extended his leave of absence thrice and his estimated date of arrival now is April 12. Mr Gandhi will address a rally that the Congress has planned on April 19 to protest against the government's planned land reforms, senior Congress leader Digivjaya Singh said today.
Senior leader Ambika Soni attempted to play down Mr Dikshit's words. "We need both the president and the vice-president," she said, insisting that there is no controversy over Mr Gandhi being missing in action during the important budget session of Parliament.
"Rahul Gandhi needs that space as he wants to introspect and we as a party understand that. He will be back soon and we will have both the leaders," Ms Soni said, adding that Congress party workers would decide on Mr Gandhi's elevation at "an appropriate time."