The meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), called to analyse the party’s election rout and chart the future course of action, turned out to be a well-orchestrated show to shield Sonia and Rahul Gandhi from blame.
In what appeared to have been a pre-scripted move, both Sonia and Rahul offered to resign taking responsibility for the disaster, only to have the CWC reject the proposal unanimously and reaffirm its faith in their leadership.
There was no criticism of Rahul’s leadership of the election campaign, nor mention of the mismanagement by his team, about which several Congress leaders have been complaining privately.
Outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took responsibility for shortcomings at the level of the government, but received lavish praise, first from Sonia and then in the resolution that the CWC adopted. There was no attempt to fix accountability for the party’s worst-ever performance.
Sonia spoke about the need for “serious and in-depth” introspection on what went wrong, and whether the party was in tune with the aspirations of the people, especially the youth.
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She ended by saying, “I believe I have not been able to bring about the necessary changes to strengthen the party. Therefore, I take full responsibility for this crushing defeat and I am prepared to relinquish my position.”
This was received by a few seconds of silence, immediately after which the old guard of R K Dhawan, M L Fotedar and Ajit Jogi sprang to reject the proposal. Jogi, who appeared not to believe what he had heard, asked Sonia to repeat what she had said. She did so four or five times, her voice choking the last time.
Rahul spoke next, and said he too wanted to step down for having failed to fulfill the expectations the party had of him. He said he had been talking about bringing accountability, and that it was only fair that it began with him.
Manmohan Singh intervened to say resignations were no “solution”. “How can you go. There is no question. We have a role to play,” Singh is learnt to have said.
This opened the floodgates, and member after CWC member beseeched Sonia and Rahul to stay on. For nearly half of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, they took turns to reject the resignations, and implored Sonia and Rahul to stay at the helm in the hour of crisis. Anil Shastri was among those who argued that the fight against the RSS-BJP needed their leadership, and that a weakened party could not afford to lose their guidance.
The CWC later passed a unanimous resolution appreciating the “untiring efforts” made by Sonia and Rahul in the elections.
In the rest of the time, the meeting identified lack of communication on the part of the government and party as a major shortcoming, sources said. Sonia said it needed to be asked whether the party was “keeping pace” with fast-changing society, and “have we failed, both as government and party, to communicate our achievements”.
Manmohan Singh took the blame for shortcomings of the government, especially the failure to control prices and tackling charges of corruption, and said it had failed to counter the opposition’s “propaganda”.
Sonia called for “structural changes” in the party, and the CWC authorised her to take “whatever steps necessary in order to revamp the organisation at all levels.”
Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi told reporters after the meeting that “there has been talk about accountability”. Asked whether any heads would roll, he said, “Wait for the reorganisation.”
On whether Rahul’s advisers had been attacked, Dwivedi said, “I will not answer questions about any individual.” He added that “when they (the leadership) have been authorised to bring changes, wait for the time”.
The CWC resolution said “both the government and the party must share responsibility for the failure, and we do so”, and called for “corrective measures at the level of the party and the level of the state governments”.
P Chidambaram spoke about shortcomings in ticket distribution, and the desertion by two Congress candidates. Jogi said the party should groom regional leaders. Shakeel Ahmed is learnt to have said that while the party should remain committed to secularism, it should ensure that this was not seen as hunting for minority votes, which might provoke a majority backlash.