So now we know it’s final.
Rahul Gandhi, who resigned as Congress president on 25 May, after India’s grand old party registered its second worst electoral performance in history (52 out of 543 Lok Sabha seats), tweeted a four-page letter on Wednesday, 3 July, clarifying his reasons for stepping down and stating that the party should pick his replacement soon.
This puts to rest the absurd drama around his resignation that has been playing out for over one month, with Congress leaders grovelling and imploring him to stay on, lest the party falls apart without that famous Nehru-Gandhi dynastic “glue”.
It also puts to rest the knowing smiles and snarks from Rahul’s opponents who have been saying that his resignation was a mere farce – that Rahul was only sulking and would allow himself to be persuaded to carry on as Congress chief.
Holding Himself Accountable for LS Debacle
To be sure, there has been a clamour for Rahul’s resignation ever since the election results were out on 23 May. And the clamour has been across the ideological divide.
The votaries of the BJP wanted him to step down because that seemed like the ultimate scalping, the sweet icing on the cake, as it were, after its resounding win over the Congress.
As for those who oppose the ruling party, they were furious with Rahul for not delivering the Congress victory that they had so ardently desired. They, too, wanted him to go.
But Rahul didn’t need to step down for either of these two groups. He needed to step down for the reason he states in his letter.
“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.”Rahul Gandhi
He couldn’t have put it better.
Yes, he fought a spirited, tireless and well-intentioned campaign focused on the real issues that were plaguing the nation, such as lack of jobs and rural distress; yes, he eschewed divisiveness and spoke about unity; yes, his chowkidar chor hai slogan fell flat on its face; yes, his thrust on alleged financial improprieties in the Rafale jet deal failed to resonate with the people; yes, the Congress’ chances were spiked in places largely because of rivalries between its regional satraps (the one between Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy, Sachin Pilot, is a case in point); yes, the people of India seemed entranced with a different tune from the one that Rahul was singing.
However, the fact is that the Congress failed spectacularly.
And whether or not Rahul was wholly or partially responsible for that failure, he needs to be seen as accountable for his party’s disastrous performance in the 2019 elections. (Let us not forget that he even lost Amethi, his family’s pocket borough, to BJP’s Smriti Irani.) Because accountability is the hallmark of a leader.
What a relief that Rahul has understood that, stuck to his guns, and has stood up to all those who wanted him to continue as Congress chief and continue to face the charge, that he is an effete and entitled dynast who will be propped up no matter what.
Rahul Isn’t Hanging up His Boots
But wait. Rahul, who is 49, is neither going on vanaprastha, nor seeking sanyaas. His letter, at once dignified and emotional, states in no uncertain terms that he will continue to work for the party and fight for the idea of India as enunciated in the Constitution.
“The attack on our country and our cherished Constitution that is taking place is designed to destroy the fabric of our nation. In no way, shape or form am I stepping back from this fight.”Rahul Gandhi
He alleges, moreover, that the press has lost its freedom, the Judiciary its neutrality and the Election Commission its objectivity and transparency. And that the Congress fought not just a party, but the entire machinery of the state.
He goes on to say: “The stated objective of the RSS, the capture of our country's institutional structure, is now complete… This capture of power will result in unimaginable levels of violence and pain for India. Farmers, unemployed youngsters, women, tribals, Dalits and minorities are going to suffer the most.”
These are not the words of a man who is about to hang up his boots and quietly slink off into political oblivion.
At least, for now, they do not appear to be so. Of course, it could well be that Rahul is quitting out of pique, or out of despair, for he must know that it is under his stewardship – first as vice president, and then as president – that the Congress has gone into a terminal tailspin.
For a brief shining moment, it looked as though the party had found its mojo when it won the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in December 2018. But when it was time for the big match, the general elections, it managed only three out of the 65 Lok Sabha seats in these three states.
However, no matter what his true impulse was, the point is that Rahul has taken the right decision. From root to stem, the Congress needs a thorough overhaul if it is to be energised and become a political force to reckon with once again.
And at this moment in time, a member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan is not the right person to do it, not least because the BJP’s “naamdaar” narrative – a powerful rhetoric directed at the ‘Family’ – will fizzle out if someone else leads the party.
The Congress, Going Forward
So, who will helm the Congress going forward? Who will build it anew? The Congress has had non-Gandhi prime ministers – PV Narasimha Rao in 1991 and Manmohan Singh in 2004 and 2008.
But Sonia Gandhi’s shadowy presence in the first and her not so shadowy hand in Dr Singh’s two terms were never in doubt. In any case, the party was in power then.
This time, the Congress must throw up a dynamic leader who can revivify the party itself. It must scotch the allegation that the Gandhis do not allow able and charismatic leaders to come up.
The nonagenarian Motilal Vora may well be the interim Congress chief. However, if the party is to rise again, the grandees in the Congress Working Committee must set aside their petty skirmishes and give youth a chance.
And Rahul Gandhi? Well, who knows, he, too, may have his day.
(Shuma Raha is a journalist and author based in Delhi. She tweets at @ShumaRaha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)