The A K Antony committee, set up by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to find out and analyse the reasons for the party’s worst-ever defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, has not faulted Rahul Gandhi for the debacle. Rahul, the Congress vice-president, was the face of the party’s campaign and has been at the receiving end of criticism ever since the electoral defeat.
Antony, who submitted the report to Sonia on Thursday, said both she and Rahul “worked very hard”, and made it clear that there was “no criticism about the party leadership” in his report. The report, said to be in three parts, is meant only for Sonia’s eyes. Sources said the report, however, was critical of the UPA government in the context of price rise and charges of corruption.
“Actually during this elections, only Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi… these two people extensively toured all over the country. Difficult terrain, difficult weather, but they extensively campaigned all over the country…. They are our leaders. They worked very hard. And there is no criticism about the party leadership,” Antony said when asked whether in report he has named Rahul Gandhi.
Antony said the “reasons for the Congress defeat were something else” but did not elaborate.
Both Rahul and Sonia had accepted personal responsibility for the defeat and offered to resign at the Congress Working Committee which met immediately after the elections. But the party shielded them, rejecting their resignations and pleading them to remain at the helm to revive the party. Many of the leaders in private though criticise Rahul’s leadership and claim his team mismanaged the election campaign.
Having found no fault with the leadership, Antony stressed that the party’s revival would be under their watch. “Even though now we are passing through a difficult period and it will take some time, we are confident of revival. Just as in 1977, we will be able to regain the lost ground, we will able to strengthen our party, strengthen our mass base under the leadership of Sonia and Rahul,” he said.
On Rahul’s leadership being questioned, he called it speculation. “Nothing like that. Those people who are spreading this kinds of rumours, they want to weaken the Congress. Everybody wants to regain the lost ground. We have made some suggestions also. One thing is very clear, we are confident that Congress will come back and regain lost ground under the leadership of Sonia and Rahul.”
The panel, headed by Antony and assisted by AICC general secretary Mukul Wasnik and secretaries Avinash Pande and R C Kuntia, met over 500 Congress leaders from across the country over a period of 45 days to come up with the report. Antony said he would not go into the details of the report.
Sources said several Congress leaders who testified before the panel were critical of Rahul’s democratization drive in the Youth Congress and the NSUI and did suggest that his reluctance to become the PM candidate and the party’s decision not to project him did create confusion and played a role in the defeat. Antony said the party did not work at various levels as strongly as was required.