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Rahul Gandhi’s statement on why he chose to resign as Congress president on May 25, and has remained adamant on the decision ever since, should now end all speculations over whether he will cave in to the many calls from his party colleagues to continue leading the Grand Old Party.
But, the four-page statement issued by Gandhi, on Wednesday, in wake of the frenzied ‘will he, won’t he’ media speculation doesn’t simply set the record straight on why he was compelled to quit a position that his hallowed surname had entitled him to long before he would care to remember. The statement also gives a glimpse of the Nehru-Gandhi scion’s disillusionment with his party colleagues, particularly the seniors who are yet to publicly own up responsibility for the Lok Sabha poll drubbing, and his desire to see the Congress shed its easygoing status quo.
Predictably, Gandhi’s statement has harsh words for the BJP-RSS combine which decimated the Congress at the recent hustings but, more importantly, there is also veiled criticism of the affairs within his own party.
“As President of the Congress Party, I am responsible for the loss of the 2019 election. Accountability is critical for the future growth of our party. It is for this reason that I have resigned as Congress President. Rebuilding the party requires hard decisions and numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure of 2019. It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility as President of the party,” Gandhi said in his statement.
Indeed, this is a line Gandhi has repeated often in his closed door interactions with party leaders over the past month, hoping that his stress on accountability will shame his peers into sharing some of the responsibility for the continuing electoral rout of the Congress. Sadly for Gandhi, his message has largely been lost on his colleagues, especially the veterans, who have paid little more than lip service to the cause, publicly declaring, as Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot did two days back, that they have offered to resign but, in reality, hanging on to their posts.
It was only over the past week that a spate of resignations of office bearers across the Congress party and its frontal organisations began but, sources say, the trigger was Gandhi’s expression of disgust at a meeting with a delegation of Youth Congress members over how no senior leader of the party, including members of the Congress Working Committee, had taken a cue from his resignation and owned up responsibility for the poll loss.
Gandhi’s statement makes a fleeting, albeit important, mention of another fact that he had also brought up during the May 25 CWC meeting where he first offered his resignation – that he often waged a lone battle against the BJP and Narendra Modi, shorn of support from his party colleagues.
“Our campaign was one of brotherhood, tolerance and respect for all of India’s people, religions and communities. I personally fought the Prime Minister, the RSS and the institutions they have captured with all my being. I fought because I love India. And I fought to defend the ideals India was built upon. At times, I stood completely alone and am extremely proud of it,” Gandhi further said in the statement.
The emphasis on his individual fight against Modi and the RSS and candid admission of having done so “completely alone” is not new, albeit a first in a public statement. At the May 25 CWC, sources say, Gandhi had made his disgust clear at how a majority of Congress leaders, including all five chief ministers from the party, did not back him up on his ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ broadside against Modi. There have, of course, been several other incidents too over the past few years where Gandhi’s criticism of the Modi government has not found resonance within his own party.
While alleging that India’s institutions are under a scathing assault by the Modi government, Gandhi has underscored the need to “reclaim and resuscitate our institutions” and exuded confidence that “the instrument of this resuscitation will be the Congress party.” But, while doing so, Gandhi has also reiterated a harsh truth, one that many within the Congress party and political analysts have been saying for years – “to achieve this important task, the Congress party must radically transform itself.”
Gandhi’s call for a radical transformation of his party, coupled with his comment that the “the BJP is systematically crushing the voice of the Indian people” and “it is the duty of the Congress party to defend these voices”, betrays an admission of the fact that the Grand Old Party has lost touch with India’s political reality and needs to urgently catch up.
Gandhi ended his statement virtually begging his party colleagues who failed to perform to follow his cue. “It is a habit in India that the powerful cling to power, no one sacrifices power. But we will not defeat our opponents without sacrificing the desire for power and fighting a deeper ideological battle,” Gandhi said, a comment reminiscent of the “power is poison remark” that he had made when appointed as the party’s vice president at the Jaipur session in January 2013.
The Nehru-Gandhi scion has signed off as the president of the party that both his parents, grandmother and great-grandfather once helmed. But, his tenure has come to an end at the end of a tumultuous two years which have seen the 134-year-old party become a sorry caricature of its once glorious past. The ominous task of rebuilding and revitalizing the party will now fall to Gandhi’s successor, who undoubtedly will be a loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi family and will need to work “under the guidance” of the Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka troika.
The search for Gandhi’s successor, sources say, is nearly over and the party wants the position to go to a leader from the Dalit or backward class. Names of former Maharashtra chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, party veteran Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul confidante Mukul Wasnik (all Dalits) and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot (an OBC) have been doing the rounds for some time now but sources say there just might be a dark horse too. A final decision on who will wear the crown of thorns is likely to be taken after Priyanka Gandhi Vadra returns from her foreign visit. In the meanwhile, the party could appoint former party treasurer Motilal Vora, the 91-year-old senior-most member of the CWC, as an interim president.
Vora, however, told news agency ANI he had received no information about being appointed as interim chief. Sources in the party also said that Gandhi will continue to be the president till the CWC accepts his resignation.
Will Gandhi’s call for radical transformation be heeded by his party colleagues and if it does, will it be enough to restore the severely eroded footprint of the Congress – these are questions of political astrology. What is certain though is that the times ahead for the Congress will be no less testing than the past five years.