Rahul Gandhi Monday appeared firm on his decision to step down as Congress president, plunging the party which suffered the second-worst defeat in its history into more turmoil, confusion and uncertainty.
He is said to have told the party he will continue until a suitable successor is found. Some in the party interpreted this as a sign that he may relent. Others said finding a successor is not easy given the sense of deep distrust among senior leaders.
As Gandhi remained adamant, many state Congress presidents either resigned or offered to quit to allow him to undertake a restructuring of the party. The resignations are seen as an attempt to persuade Gandhi to change his mind.
While Jharkhand PCC chief Ajoy Kumar resigned, Punjab’s Sunil Jakhar, Assam’s Ripun Bora and Maharashtra’s Ashok Chavan offered to step down. AICC treasurer Ahmed Patel and party general secretary in charge of organisation K C Venugopal met Gandhi Monday and the impression these leaders got was that he is in no mood to relent. In fact, sources said he has asked them to look for his successor. Gandhi, sources said, was open to taking over as the leader of the Congress in Parliament and then focus exclusively on rebuilding the party.
While party leaders put up a brave front saying the Congress Working Committee has already rejected Gandhi’s desire to step down, behind-the-scenes efforts are said to be continuing to persuade him. The argument being extended is that he cannot leave at such a critical juncture. The opinion in the party on his desire to quit also remains divided.
A section of the leaders feel he will eventually change his mind once the party gives him a carte blanche to restructure the party. Although the CWC Saturday requested him to carry out a “complete overhaul and a detailed restructuring at every level of the party”, the task given past experience is easier said than done because of the various pulls and pressures.
The rumblings in the Congress in Rajasthan and the tension in the JD(S)-Congress government in Karnataka too are worrying the party. With two ministers of the Ashok Gehlot government taking potshots at the Chief Minister, the Congress also swung into damage-control mode. The ministers were emboldened after Gandhi accused Gehlot and two other senior leaders of having put the interests of their sons above that of the party during the Lok Sabha elections.
Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala issued a statement asking the media to respect the sanctity of a closed-door meeting of the CWC. It was, however, silent on Gandhi’s specific comments about Gehlot and others and merely said “CWC held a collective deliberation on the performance of the party, the challenges before it as also the way ahead, instead of casting aspersions on the role or conduct of any specific individual.”
The CWC, Surjewala said, is a democratic forum to exchange ideas, formulate policies and take corrective action. “In this realm and context, members of the CWC expressed their views in the meeting. The CWC looked at the reverses in the Lok Sabha elections as an opportunity for radical changes and a complete organisational overhaul, for which it authorised the Congress president, Rahul Gandhi.”
“The Congress party expects everyone including the media to respect the sanctity of a closed-door meeting of the CWC. Various conjectures, speculations, insinuations, assumptions, gossip and rumour mongering in a section of the media is uncalled for and unwarranted,” it said, adding “we would request everyone, including the media, to not fall into the trap of conjectures or speculations and await the calibrated efforts by the Congress party towards future course of action.”