The Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting ended in New Delhi on Monday in an anticlimax, as Congress president Sonia Gandhi averted a planned attack on her son, party vice president Rahul Gandhi, and his team over the poll debacle. Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul offered to relinquish their positions, which created emotional scenes so much so that no discussion could take place, not even choosing the leaders of opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
All party general secretaries also offered to resign, saying they were all equally accountable for the Congress’ poor show. They told Sonia she was free to revamp the party as she deemed fit. Manmohan Singh, currently caretaker prime minister, also joined others in persuading Sonia and Rahul not to resign, arguing that it was the collective defeat of the party. He pointed out it would be dangerous if leaders resigned at this juncture as “a weak opposition is even more dangerous since we have to play a constructive opposition role”. Singh took responsibility for price rise and not responding to the perception of corruption.
Rahul Gandhi, who followed suit with his resignation, said there was no system of fixing accountability in the party. “Therefore, I begin with this system by accepting the responsibility and relinquishing the post,” he said.
What followed was complete commotion, and the 38 members of the CWC who attended the two-and-half-hour-long meeting refused to discuss their resignations. They didn’t allow the meeting to proceed until both mother and son retracted and vowed to continue to lead the party.
Senior Congress leader Makhanlal Fotedar intervened immediately after Rahul and Sonia read out their written resignation letters, wondering what was left in the party if the chief resigned and created a vacuum at this crucial juncture. “The CWC appointed by the Congress president itself goes if there is no Congress president and better end the meeting immediately,” Fotedar argued, even as others joined in to plead that the two Gandhis cannot desert the party in its moment of crisis. He later told reporters that Sonia Gandhi was more important than anybody as the party cannot become headless.
Senior leader Ajit Jogi said the resignations would only further demoralise party workers, who needed a morale boost to dispel the shock of the defeat.
What followed was a discussion in which 29 leaders spoke, and later adopted a resolution on how to revamp the Congress. The atmosphere, however, became so emotional that the CWC ended the meeting without setting up any committees to look into the factors behind the party’s poor performance in the elections.
Among the few who tried to mount an attack on Rahul and Sonia Gandhi included Anil Shastri, who complained that there was no interface between the party’s leadership and its workers. He advocated coming up with a mechanism to cover up this deficiency.
The CWC authorised the Congress president to take whatever steps were necessary in order to revamp the party organisation at all levels.
“It is obvious that there were shortcomings. It is also clear that we failed to read the profound changes that had taken place in the country during the 10 years since the UPA was voted to form the government – changes that were, in large measure, due to the policies, programmes and legislation that had ushered in an era of rapid growth, empowerment of the people, and high expectations. And all, we should introspect, as to why we were unable to connect with the electorate,” said the resolution.