Rahul Gandhi offers to resign at CWC meet, gets free hand to overhaul party
NEW DELHI, May 25: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday offered to step down at the first meeting of the party's top decision-making body after its devastating performance in the national elections but the offer was rejected "unanimously and with one voice". Instead, the Congress Working Committee, or CWC, gave Rahul Gandhi a free hand to go for a "complete overhaul and a detailed restructuring at every level of the party".
Rahul Gandhi's offer at the CWC's marathon meeting came after many leaders had given their quick analysis of the reasons that led to its decimation in the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections. The Congress won just about 52 seats in the Lok Sabha in this round of national elections, a shade better than its worst performance ever, in the 2014 elections, when it ended up with 44 seats.
Seated next to Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
at the meeting, Rahul Gandhi is learnt to have insisted on stepping down. But the "CWC unanimously and with one voice rejected the same and requested the Congress President for his leadership and guidance in these challenging times," said Surjewala. Asked if Rahul Gandhi had agreed to continue, Surjewala pointed to the resolution that underlines the CWC's rejection of the offer.
Rahul Gandhi's resignation rejected by Congress' top decision-making body days after the Indian National Congress party's humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, party chief Rahul Gandhi offered to resign from his post.
The CWC's decision is final in all matters according to the party's constitution, a Congress leader later explained. But there was some acknowledgement that the CWC resolution recorded the resignation offer in some detail because it was not meant to be just a formality. Senior party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, for one, said he hadn't seen the kind of unanimity on a leader's continuation as he saw at today's meeting for Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi, who had fronted the opposition campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, did not speak to the media after the three-hour-long meeting and left with sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
"The CWC unanimously called upon the Congress President, Shri Rahul Gandhi to lead the party in its ideological battle and to champion the cause of India's youth, the farmers, the SC/ST/OBC's, the minorities, the poor and the deprived sections," the resolution said.
For now, the Congress's top priority is to get the party fighting fit in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand that will head to assembly elections later this year. Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir are likely to be held anytime soon and Delhi will go to the polls in February next year.
The party chiefs in many states are likely to be replaced and new teams put in place within a week or two. This will be in line with a realisation in the Congress that a revival at the national level is possible only when the party resurrects itself in the states.
Some new general secretaries and in-charges of states are also expected to be appointed soon. Gandhi had made it clear at an unusually brief news conference after the poll verdict came on Thursday that the party was determined to fight back.
The Congress which did not get the post of the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha in 2014 may not get it this time also. A party should get 10 per cent, or 55 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, to be entitled to the Leader of Opposition designation for its leader.
The Congress has rarely looked beyond the Nehru-Gandhi family for leadership, against all reason.The Congress held its post-mortem three days after its net worth in the general election hit 52 seats, just eight up from 2014, which was its worst-ever result. Mr Gandhi, at a press conference that evening, was asked by NDTV's reporter what sort of responsibility he assumes for the loss. "100%", he replied.
The complete and total collapse of the appeal of the Congress was exemplified by Mr Gandhi's defeat in Amethi, the constituency that has been held by his family for four decades and which elected Mr Gandhi for three terms to parliament. In 2014, the BJP's Smrithi Irani lost to him; it has taken her just five years to evict him from a Nehru-Gandhi bastion.
Mr Gandhi will remain an MP on account of his victory from Wayanad, the constituency he contested from Kerala. Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the BJP to a back-to-back majority, with the party improving upon its last result, a feat not accomplished in Indian politics in decades.
The intensity and immensity of his triumph, which owes much to its emphasis on nationalism and the irrefutable appeal of Mr Modi, records how effectively the BJP demolished Mr Gandhi's strategy and his many missteps: of poorly-handled alliances, of accusing Mr Modi of corruption with the "chowkidar chor hai" slogan which he raised at all his rallies in connection with a multi-billion dollar French fighter jet deal, of failing to communicate clearly or early how his party will help farmers whose distress has surged quite apart from an unimaginative PR campaign that launched late.
Though senior Congress leaders have privately admitted these shortcomings helped create a political sinkhole, on record today, the Working Committee said it had authorized Mr Gandhi to overhaul the party. This suggests that Mr Gandhi did not have unlimited powers thus far - and that it is the absence of these that may have impeded his strike rate. In December, the Congress won three major heartland states, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The struggle of farmers at the time against debt, crop prices and an element of anti-incumbency against the BJP, which held these states, worked well for Mr Gandhi. But the infamous Congress complacency and infighting ground down those gains at high velocity. -HINDUSTAN TIMES