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Congress is convinced it has no future without Gandhis

By Anita Katyal
May 20, 2014 01:25 IST
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The whole drama of the Congress Working Committee meeting was enacted precisely to underline the First Family’s supremacy and, more particularly, to insulate Rahul Gandhi from any harsh criticism for the party’s humiliating poll drubbing, reports Anita Katyal.

The first meeting of the Congress Working Committee held in New Delhi on Monday after the party’s rout in the recently-concluded Lok Sabha elections was essentially called to introspect on the reasons for the humiliating defeat.

But as it happened, the three-hour meeting became an occasion for the members of the party’s highest decision-making body to demonstrate their loyalty to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

As members spoke at length about the Gandhi family’s contributions and how the party needed them at the helm at this critical juncture, senior CWC member R K Dhawan remarked, “Was the meeting called for this purpose?”

The display of sycophancy (not unusual in the Congress party) followed when Sonia and Rahul Gandhi expectedly owned responsibility for the party’s dismal performance and offered to step down from their respective posts.

Predictably, this offer was unanimously rejected by members of the party’s working committee with outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh taking the lead. “Your resignation will not solve the problem. Mistakes need to be corrected. We have to meet the challenges ahead,” he said, a view which was echoed by the other CWC members.

Sonia Gandhi opened the meeting by expressing her disappointment with the election result, stating that as head of the party, she took responsibility for the defeat and would be willing to step down.

While blaming their political opponents for polarising the electorate, the Congress president acknowledged that the government had done a lot of good work but they were not able to convince the people.

“We admit there have been shortcomings on our side,” she added.

Speaking in the same vein, Rahul Gandhi admitted that the party lacked a system of accountability and offered to make a beginning in this direction by resigning from his post.

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s offer of resignation immediately opened the floodgates as members rejected the move and did their best to outdo each other in lavishing praise on the two leaders. They appreciated their hard work and made it amply clear that it was imperative that they should continue to guide the party given he challenges that they face today.

The subtext was clear: the Congress is not ready yet to bid good bye to the Gandhi parivar and that party members are convinced that they have no identity without the family.

In fact, this whole drama was enacted precisely to underline the First Family’s supremacy and, more particularly, to insulate Rahul Gandhi from any harsh criticism.

Although nobody is willing to speak out, a large number of Congress members have been privately questioning Rahul Gandhi’s capability to lead the party. Blaming Rahul Gandhi for the party’s debacle, they have also been attacking his advisers, who, they believe, were responsible for the party’s lacklustre and ineffective campaign.

Monday’s development -- the offer of resignation and the open show of loyalty to the family -- has pre-empted any further attack on Rahul Gandhi. Besides ensuring that her son does not come in the line of fire, Sonia Gandhi also succeeded in getting CWC members to acknowledge that the party cannot afford to forsake the Gandhi family.

That the strategy has worked was evident from the statements made by CWC members after the meeting. “Why should they resign, they are best leadership we have,” declared newly-elected Amritsar MP and former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh.

Outgoing minister Beni Prasad Verma spoke on the same lines, “Why should the Gandhis resign… the defeat is the collective responsibility of the party.”

Taking the floor after Sonia Gandhi, outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the first speaker to appreciate Sonia and Rahul’s leadership and instead took personal responsibility for the party’s poor performance. He acknowledged that as head of the government, he failed to control prices and take corrective measures with regard to the corruption cases.

Although the meeting was devoted largely to appreciate the Gandhi family, a few members did point to the reasons for the party’s dismal performance. While outgoing finance minister P Chidambaram spoke about the faulty selection of candidates, the election campaign, especially the communications strategy, also came in for veiled attack.

There was all-round acknowledgment that the party organisation be revamped at all levels at the earliest, those responsible for the defeat be held accountable, preparations be made for the coming round of assembly elections and a committee be constituted to prepare a roadmap for the future.

In true Congress style, the working committee adopted a resolution, taking collective responsibility for the party’s humiliating defeat and authorising Sonia Gandhi to undertake necessary structural changes to strengthen the party organisation.

Image: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi at the CWC meeting in New Delhi on Monday

Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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Anita Katyal in New Delhi
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