The fall-out of the severe drubbing on the Congress Party is still playing out in public. It seems the dynastic head of the party is insistent upon quitting following the spectacular defeat of the party which failed to get even one-tenth of the seats to qualify for the post of the Leader of the Opposition. Rahul Gandhi’s apparent firmness on quitting has naturally shamed a variety of other leaders into offering their resignations.
Overnight, it seems, Modi has induced a rush of moral accountability in a party which hitherto was notorious for absorbing electoral setbacks without anyone owning up a wee whit of responsibility. A leadership impervious to a series of defeats was now being thrown into an internal crisis by none other than its own supreme head.
After announcing his decision to quit at the first meeting of the Congress Working Committee after the election results, Rahul apparently made himself unavailable to all but his hand-picked aides. Courtiers found themselves cut out by the Leader who indicated that he was not ready to be persuaded to change his decision.
After a tense hiatus of 24 hours when nobody was allowed to meet him, Sonia Gandhi’s trusted political adviser, Ahmed Patel, and, a day later, Priyanka Vadra, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, met him, as per media reports. His callers denied they discussed his resignation but it was clear they did nothing else.
Of course, Sonia Gandhi is dead-set against her son quitting the party post. She cannot countenance someone else from outside the family taking over the reins of what she believes is a family firm. All indications, however, suggest that the son is equally firm on resigning. Maybe a Manmohan Singh-like figure can be found to head the party till Rahul is ready again to assume charge of the party.
Again, if Rahul quits owning up responsibility for the huge blow to the party in the recent election, what justification will heads of various Pradesh Congress Committees have to continue after their humiliating defeat? The Raj Babbars, Sunil Jakhars, Sanjay Nirupams, etc all will have no earthly reason to continue after their chief embarrasses them publicly by walking away from his post.
Probably, individual responsibility is what Rahul had in view when he publicly rebuked Gehlot, P Chidambaram, Kamal Nath, etc, for neglecting the party while concentrating on the election of their respective sons. This uncharacteristic ticking-off of senior leaders hinted that Rahul was unlikely to put himself on a different pedestal. He could insist on accountability for the party only if he himself was ready to admit his role for the disaster.
An upshot of the public humiliation of party bosses by Rahul is that a Rajasthan minister has sent in his resignation in order to shame Chief Minister Gehlot to own up responsibility for the total wipe-out of the party in the State. The BJP won all 25 seats in Rajasthan. Nath too is under pressure for the abject failure of the party in M P As for Chidambaram, win or loss in Tamil Nadu is linked directly to the fortunes of the leading Dravida party with which the Congress is aligned.
The Congress had a tie-up with the DMK which swept the poll, helping Chidambaram’s controversial son, Karthi, to win. In 2014, Karthi failed to save his deposit owing to DMK’s lack of popular support. The ongoing turmoil in Congress may not have a direct bearing on its allies, but they have a deep interest in its fortunes. If Rahul’s resignation drama is not resolved soon, it will further demoralize the opposition which is struggling to find its feet after its rejection by the people.
Indeed, the uncertainty over Rahul’s status has caused confusion over the leadership of the Congress MPs in the Lok Sabha. With the defeat of Mallikarjun Kharge, the party has to search for a new leader. Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party but did not head its Lok Sabha component.
Shashi Tharoor has expressed a desire to replace Kharge, but his being an accused in the ‘suicide’ of his wife, Sunanda Pushkar, and earlier his involvement in the IPL ‘sweat equity’ scandal, should normally disqualify him from leading the party in the Lok Sabha despite his gift of the gab and an ability to turn an elegant phrase or two in English.
Jyotiraditya Scindia could have been considered but he failed to retain his seat. In short, there is a crisis of leadership both at the organisational and parliamentary levels in the Grand Old Party. Unless resolved soon, it can have an adverse effect on the Congress ministries in the States.