Rahul Gandhi’s resignation: What next?  

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Rahul Gandhi has quit as president of the Indian National Congress after it was humiliated, for the second time in as many nationwide elections, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Gandhi’s mother, father, grandmother, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather were all Congress presidents. By sticking to his decision to quit as party chief, he has thrown a challenge at his colleagues to find a life outside the shelter of the Nehru-Gandhi family.  Rahul summarily dismissed pleas to reconsider his resignation, saying that a member of the Gandhi family need not be the party president. For almost half a century, the Congress has had few power centers outside the Nehru-Gandhi family. After several years, the Congress has to plan for life without the Gandhi-Nehru family. It did live without them after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and Sonia Gandhi’s refusal to take up the mantle. There is no denying that the Gandhis have run the party like a family concern for more than four decades. Only two non-Gandhis have headed the party since 1978. The first was PV Narasimha Rao after Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated and Sonia Gandhi declined request to take her husband’s place. The second was Sitaram Kesri who took over from Rao after the Congress lost the 1996 Lok Sabha election. The big question is will Rahul Gandhi’s official resignation from the post of Congress president, revive the party or only deepen the crisis in the grand old party.

In a sagacious advice, Rahul has warned that “accountability is critical for future growth of the party”. The decision to step down is clearly an attempt to set new standards of political morality by owning responsibility for the Congress’s drubbing in the recent parliamentary polls. These lines in his resignation letter — “It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility as president of the party”  — say it all. But accountability does not end there. Any moral appeal could only have had a limited impact on the seasoned veterans, but the example Rahul set by accepting responsibility for the defeat while reiterating his commitment to the larger cause might help inspire a revival of the party. Who will take up the mantle of reviving the grand old party? The Congress Working Committee (CWC) will have to find a Rahul’s successor. The party’s decision-making body has three paths forwards — (a) appointment of an interim president (b) appoint a group of leaders to lead the party, and (c) appoint a committee to deliberate and take the final call on the leadership issue.

Today, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has the popular appeal and presence. Whoever succeeds Rahul, he or she has his or her task cut out. If the new leader succeeds in giving a new lease of life to the party and prove that the Congress can survive without the dynasty it will lift the workers morale, and make them respect the new leadership. However, the past experience of Congress without Gandhi family at the helm of affairs does not project an encouraging scenario.


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