India's Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi resigns; End of an era?

Rahul Gandhi
Singapore: Congress President Rahul Gandhi during a meeting with Indian-origin CEOs of companies in Singapore on March 8, 2018. (Photo: IANS/Twitter/@INCIndia) IANS/Twitter/@INCIndia

India's 158-year-old Congress Party that won independence from the British 72 years ago has seen the final death nail fixed on its coffin with its charismatic president Rahul Gandhi announcing his resolve to step down owning responsibility for the party's abysmal performance in recent elections.

Rahul Gandhi, who steered the party after taking reins from his mother Sonia Gandhi last year, was initially successful in rejuvenating the party that went on to win three out of five assembly elections in December last. However, he could not save the party from a total rout in the hands of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in May 2019 elections.

In his resignation letter, Rahul Gandhi said:"It is an honour for me to serve the Congress Party, whose values and ideals have served as the lifeblood of our beautiful nation... It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility as President of the party."

"We didn't fight a political party in the election. We fought the entire machinery of the Indian state, every institution of which was marshalled against the opposition," he expalined in his open resignation letter. However, his conclusions are equally alarming when he said, "Our democracy has been fundamentally weakened."

Ironic, but Rahul Gandhi's decision is likely to benefit BJP which was against the concept of Congress still continue as a political party after India's independence from the British. In fact, it keeps on reiterating the wish of the nation's father Mahatma Gandhi when he advised the party leaders in 1947 to abolish the Congress soon after independence. It was recalled again by BJP leader and PM Narendra Modi during the elections in May this year.

With Rahul Gandhi's decision, the wish of Mahatma Gandhi and BJP will come true since the party would face decimation from the Indian political scenario. In fact, the party failed to win even the minimum number of seats in the lower House to be recognised as the Opposition party for the second time consecutively.

A senior Congress leader Motilal Vohra took over as interim president but the search for a Congress leader remains evasive in view of the veterans club not leaving their grip over the party despite their despicable record in recent elections. Moreover, the party's history is replete with failures every time a non-Gandhi president headed it. It is also said that the family of Indira Gandhi was reared from the childhood that the party is their mother and they should serve it and sacrifice for it.

Indira Gandhi herself was assassinated in 1984 by her own security guards with whom Rahul Gandhi had apparently played with in his childhood. Indira's elder son Rajiv Gandhi too died in 1991 in a Sri Lankan terrorist attack while campaigning for the elections. With a high record of sacrifices in the family, Congress Party remained loyal to the family with awe and admiration throughout. The truth is no other Congress leader could stem the internal squabbling.

The decision of Rahul Gandhi to step aside from the leadership of the party may eventually lead to a declining party that may clamour for his sister Priyanka Gandhi to take over the party's central leadership. Though the family is averse to the idea, Congress senior leaders understand that she has the same charisma as her grandmother Indira Gandhi had both in resemblance and leadership style.

It remains to be seen whether this experiment of keeping a non-Gandhi president for some time to necessitate Priyanka Gandhi's leadership would help the party to revive or not.

This article was first published on July 3, 2019