New Delhi: Drama unfolded in the first Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting following the Lok Sabha poll debacle, which saw the grand old party fail to open an account in 20 states. “As head of the party, I should take responsibility,” party chief Rahul Gandhi said in his address to senior Congress functionaries.
Gandhi remained adamant about not continuing as party chief, a decision he said was non-negotiable, according to a source. “I will continue to work as a party worker to further our ideology and strengthen the party,” he said after tendering his resignation.
Importantly, sources said his offer to resign was genuine and serious as he reasoned by saying that “anyone could replace me and it doesn’t have to be from one family”.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is also said to have told Rahul Gandhi that it was not the right time to resign. “You may have reasons to believe what you do but, now is not the right time. We will accept any proposal to restructure the party that you deem fit,” she said.
Gandhi’s offer to resign drew a unanimous refusal from all leaders present in the high-level meeting. The CWC appealed to him to continue to lead the party, expressing their faith in his leadership. “All of us unanimously said that if there’s anyone who can lead the party and play the opposition’s role in such troubled times, it is him,” said senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.
One of the most emotional responses to Gandhi’s offer to step down came from senior leader P Chidambaram. Sources said Chidambaram became very emotional at the meeting as he tried to reason with Gandhi about not quitting his position as party president.
“Twelve crore people have voted for you, south India believes in you. How can you say you don’t want to remain president,” a source quoted Chidambaram as saying.
The CWC passed a resolution authorising Gandhi to restructure the party, fixing responsibilities over the disastrous Lok Sabha election performance. “The CWC requested the Congress president for his leadership and guidance in these challenging times,” it said.
Despite the CWC resolution, many senior leaders believe that Gandhi may stick to his stand as he is convinced it’s the only way forward and has the tendency to remain firm on his decision.
Hitting out at some senior leaders who didn’t perform as expected, Gandhi said the issues raised by the party weren’t taken up with as much aggression by several senior leaders who “were busy promoting their children” in the election. Sources said Gandhi slammed senior leaders who, he said, “wasted the party’s time and their own energy by seeking tickets for their kin. Their self-interest preceded that of the party’s”.
Sources further said Gandhi was upset that while he was aggressive on a number of issues which he took to the people, these other leaders had failed to follow suit.
If the party takes a line on an issue then everyone should toe the line, he is said to have rued.
Apart from Gandhi’s offer to resign, the CWC also introspected on reasons behind the poll debacle.
Senior leaders spoke about the many reasons the for party’s decimation. “Nationalism emerged as the biggest poll plank which subsumed all other calculations,” said a source. Party leaders discussed how it wasn’t just the Congress party which didn’t perform but even the 'gathbandhan' didn’t work as nationalism overshadowed the caste-arithmetic.
The Congress failed to communicate its message once again, said leaders in the CWC meet. It was admitted that the party’s publicity campaign started rather late and was ineffective in promoting its big poll promise – the ‘NYAY’ scheme.
Some senior leaders and party functionaries also talked about the Election Commission’s biased conduct and the role of electronic voting machines (EVMs).
“In some states where the party couldn’t even win a single seat, few party functionaries said the role of EVMs was also discussed,” a source said.
Despite the ambiguity over Gandhi’s final decision, one thing stands certain – that the party will undergo several structural changes. Sources also said that the state unit chiefs could be the first casualty in the restructuring.