Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi promised to “introspect” and “work harder” in the wake of the defeats in Kerala and Assam Thursday but there were growing calls from within for something more than just that.
“The Indian National Congress accepts the verdict…with utmost humility. We will introspect into the reasons for our loss and will rededicate ourselves to the service of the people with greater vigour,” Sonia Gandhi said. And in a series of tweets, Rahul said: “My best wishes to the parties that have won the elections…We will work harder till we win the confidence and trust of people.”
But staring at two key states slipping away, the party, reduced to just Karnataka and six smaller states, was groping in the dark on how to break the continuing cycle of defeat. It is aware that these defeats undermine its bargaining power in any discourse on a third front to be led by the likes of Nitish Kumar or Mamata Banerjee.
“The time for introspection is now past. Time for action has come…It is time to move and it is time to make some visible changes that the world and the country can see because for a couple of years after 2014, the process for consideration, reflection, introspection and so on has been taking place. It is now time for the leadership to draw on the conclusion from their introspection and take necessary action,” Congress MP Shashi Tharoor told The Indian Express.
It was not just Tharoor.
“Today’s results disappointing but not unexpected. We have done enough introspection. Shouldn’t we go for a major surgery,” tweeted party general secretary Digvijaya Singh. Speaking to The Indian Express, Singh said: “After the Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi had asked all senior Congress leaders to submit reports on the road ahead for the party and to hold discussions with state leaders. The deadline for submitting the report was February 20, 2015. We all submitted our reports, I also did. It is May 2016 and we are still awaiting action. So the question is: how long will the party introspect? Action on what all we told the party leadership is long overdue.”
He said that given the party was “under the overall leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, they are the ones who have to take steps to rejuvenate the party and build up a regional leadership.”
The Assam loss could have been avoided, Singh said. “There was no reason to drive Himanta Sarma out,” he said. “That single action of driving him out took away 10-15 seats from the Congress’s kitty. The Bodos were with us. Now the Bodos have been taken away from us.”
Despite the defeat, Congress sources said the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as party president would not be delayed. They said a reshuffle in the AICC and his elevation was round the corner.
“Rahul Gandhi should take over the party sooner rather than later,” said Tharoor. “Not that anyone has anything but the highest regard for Sonia Gandhi but because this sense that he is president in waiting is widespread and the waiting should stop and be replaced with action. So I would be amongst those who feel that time has come for some clear-cut organisational changes that can only come with a new president,” he said.
And along with a completely new team? “I can’t say a completely new set of leaders as some of the experienced ones will have to continue but a mixture of leaders which include a lot more young and fresh faces who are more reflective of the future of the Congress than of its past,” he said.
Meanwhile, a blame game is also on. Many leaders said the failure to project a new face in Assam after the Lok Sabha election resulted in the huge setback. And the Rahul vs old guard narrative worked here, too. Sources said many top leaders like Ahmed Patel and Digvijaya Singh were for replacing Gogoi and were rooting for Himanta Sarma but Rahul insisted that Gogoi, a three-time Chief Minister should be given a honourable exit. Many are blaming Gogoi for his over-confidence and reliance on his son.
Senior Congress leader from Assam and former union minister Paban Singh Ghatowar said one of the prime reasons for the defeat in Assam was because of the lack of an alliance in Assam. The BJP, he said, managed to cobble up a rainbow coalition of social groups. “Projection of a tribal leader also helped them,” he said.
In Kerala, if many argued that corruption scandals and incumbency did the party in, others said the tussle between state Congress chief V M Sudheeran and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy also hurt.
“The Sudheeran and Oommen Chandy controversy was totally unnecessary. Whatever opinion they had should have been conveyed to the high command in confidence and openly making a debate on the eve of the elections in Kerala did harm to the party…it was unfortunate,” senior Congress leader P C Chacko said.