New Delhi, May 19: Sonia and Rahul Gandhi offered to resign their party posts today in what seemed a largely symbolic move and were quickly persuaded to withdraw the gesture by the Congress Working Committee.
Mother and son were told that resignations didn’t help solve a crisis. Neither pressed the point and the matter ended quickly, without the public drama the Congress is infamous for on such occasions.
The working committee members made it clear they were not ready to even debate the resignation offers, and that further discussions could begin only after this chapter was closed.
Outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the committee in convincing the Gandhis that the poll debacle demanded not resignations but serious analysis and corrective action.
Although the duo’s gesture was probably meant just to stress accountability and keep media criticism at bay, an air of naivety seemed to surround it, the tokenism marking a contrast to the hardnosed idiom Narendra Modi has brought to Indian politics.
Some privately wondered about the quality of advice the Gandhis were receiving at a time the Grand Old Party has been reduced to jostling with regional outfits for supremacy.
Sonia had started off by seeking fresh and clear-headed thinking and promising structural changes before declaring: “I believe I have not been able to bring about the necessary changes to strengthen the party.”
“Therefore,” she added, “I take full responsibility for this crushing defeat and I am prepared to relinquish my position.”
Rahul too said he had not been able to deliver in keeping with the expectations and offered to quit. No meaningful discussion of the party’s plight seemed possible after this and the entire session afterwards revolved around the futility of such offers.
Singh and the other members argued that Sonia and Rahul were the party’s pillars of strength and so the option of quitting must never even flit through their minds.
Most Congress workers are seething at the rout and many have doubts about Rahul’s style of functioning, but it’s difficult to find even one who either wishes or expects Sonia and Rahul to quit at this juncture. Rather, they squirmed at what they saw as a “silly ritual of resignations” and seemed to be relieved that, unlike 10 years ago when Sonia declined the Prime Minister’s post, the episode didn’t linger or provoke chest-beating and suicide threats.
Sonia, in her opening remarks, had said: “It is but normal that after 10 years in office, any government will face anti-incumbency. I also believe that the message of the Congress was lost in the din and dust raised by an aggressive and polarising campaign by our opponents, which was backed by unlimited resources and a hostile media.”
She added: “We should try to understand why our support base has eroded to this extent. Have we fully identified ourselves with the youth who today have access to education and information far greater than ever before? Have the benefits of growth really reached the people? Our society and people are evolving and changing rapidly. Is our party keeping pace with this change?”
The working committee adopted a resolution promising to Congress workers that it would create intra-party opportunities and structures that would pave the way for an organisational revamp.
Lack of thoroughgoing action, however, is unlikely to pacify the party workers who believe the leadership had remained casual and irresponsible for far too long despite the clear writing on the wall.
Many committee members had planned to speak their mind on this at today’s meeting but have been advised to meet Sonia separately and convey their sentiments. Several of them are expected to hand over written analyses.
Congress leaders and workers seem in no mood to accept any reversion to business-as-usual or any cosmetic changes to paper over the cracks, as has often happened after past electoral setbacks.
Several party seniors have become entrenched in the high command structure and survived for decades without any significant performance. Some of Rahul’s innovations too have been unpopular and, on the evidence of this election, ineffective.
If the drastic restructuring promised by Sonia does not happen sooner than later, unrest could brew among the lower rungs that are gutted by the poll results. ( )