'Our Leader Walked Away': On Congress' Struggles, Salman Khurshid Points to Rahul Gandhi’s Exit

Associated Press

New Delhi: Senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid has said the party’s struggles are at the point that it may not be able to win key upcoming state elections or ensure its own future.

The party is facing attrition because it is taking too long to come to terms with its defeat in May national elections, the former external affairs minister told reporters late on Monday.

The Congress won only 52 of 542 parliamentary seats in the polls, compared to 303 won by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

The party faces crucial tests in October 21 state elections in Haryana in the north and Maharashtra in the west.

Party president Rahul Gandhi resigned after the May defeat, leaving his mother Sonia Gandhi to fill his shoes on an interim basis.

The party's chief in Haryana quit following a difference with the party's leadership over a choice of candidates. Ashok Tanwar was among the party's main campaigners in the party's bid to wrest power from the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state.

A revolt also is brewing in Maharashtra. Sanjay Nirupam, a key state leader, threatened to quit the party after his recommendations for its nominees were rejected by the party leadership.

An Uttar Pradesh state lawmaker, Aditi Singh, also seemed to join the revolt by staying away from a street march held by Priyanka Gandhi in the family's stronghold of Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh.

A top party leader and former finance minister, P Chidambaram, has been arrested for alleged economic offences in the INX Media case, adding to the party's woes.

On Monday, Khurshid said Rahul Gandhi left in a huff after the party's defeat in national elections, and that his mother was appointed interim president in August until a new president is chosen by the party, possibly after the October state elections.

"We haven't really got together to analyse why we got defeated. Our biggest problem is our leader has walked away," Khurshid said, adding that Rahul Gandhi still retains the allegiance of the party.

"It has kind of left a vacuum," Khurshid said. "Sonia Gandhi stepped in, but there is more than an indication that she is treating herself as a stop-gap arrangement. I wish it wasn't so."

Rahul Gandhi lost Amethi — his own seat and long a Congress party bastion — in Uttar Pradesh in the recent elections. However, he won a seat from another constituency in Kerala’s Wayanad.