Rahul Gandhi resigns: Congress must go democratic way to pick new chief, handpicked president will be disastrous

  • With Rahul Gandhi's resignation, the Congress, it appears, will have to do without a member of the Gandhi family steering it

  • The biggest question in front of the party is how they should elect the new president — should they follow the party constitution or nominate someone through discussions

  • A Congress president picked by by cliques and cabals striking deals will be unlikely to last long, as it happened with Sitaram Kesri, who was out in a year and half

  • It is unconscionable on Rahul Gandhi's part to refuse to help the party to find a successor and help it get back on its feet

  • IF the AICC elects a new president through a process that is credible, and seen to be credible, he or she might just have enough firepower to oversee an overhaul of the party

Rahul Gandhi, the Congress’ Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad, Kerala, has now made his point clear beyond any kind of misunderstanding: he is not the president of the party and it should move quickly to decide on a new leader for the party.

Speaking to members of the press at the Parliament House, Rahul was public and categorical: "The party should decide on the new president quickly without further delay. I am nowhere in this process. I have already submitted my resignation and I am no longer party president. CWC (the Congress Working Committee) should convene a meeting at the earliest and decide."

 Rahul Gandhi resigns: Congress must go democratic way to pick new chief, handpicked president will be disastrous

Senior Congress leaders at a Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting. PTI

So, the erstwhile Congress president has not only blown the idea that he might reconsider his resignation out of the water, he has also ruled out any involvement in the selection of his successor. For the time being, the Congress, it appears, will have to do without a member of the Gandhi family steering it, because Sonia Gandhi will certainly not take over again, and given the way events have been playing out, it will take a miracle to persuade Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to replace her brother. In other words, neither outcome is in the realm of the possible, forget probable.

The Congress is in really bad shape both in terms of the numbers it has in the Lok Sabha (52) and in the ways it is shaping up outside the Parliament and the legislative assemblies. As for the former, just for perspective, one may recall that the Congress (R), led by Indira Gandhi, won around 155 seats in 1977, in the post-Emergency elections. Without someone — anyone perhaps — at the helm, outside legislatures, too, the Congress is like a badly leaking ship.

It is imperative that the party should get a leader, without ‘further delay’, as Rahul has advised. The point is how they should go about it. Should they nominate someone though discussions and deal-making in the inner councils of the party, essentially the CWC with the help of other senior leaders? Or, should the party follow the procedure laid down in its constitution and allow the All India Congress Committee (AICC) to elect a leader in accordance with its constitution?

The clear downside of the first option is that someone who is not from the Gandhi family and who is picked to head the party by cliques and cabals striking deals will be unlikely to last long. The last time this happened, Sitaram Kesri was out of the door in a year and a half. That’s not what the Congress needs in the current situation, when it has virtually hit rock bottom. A president appointed through deal-making will not have the kind of moral and political authority that a mandate will give him or her. But one elected by the AICC will have some authority, a fixed tenure, the relative freedom to choose a team – the CWC, mainly – to begin with. Or else, he or she would have to be a Gandhi family proxy.

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The Congress' current constitution says that in an emergency, a general secretary should take over the day-to-day operations of the party. In the meanwhile, the CWC should nominate a provisional president. And, finally, the AICC should elect a new president. There is no reason for not following this procedure, especially when Rahul has washed his hands of the entire issue. That he has acted in the most irresponsible way goes without saying. It is understandable that he has owned moral responsibility for the Congress’ pulverising loss and quit, but it is unconscionable on his part to refuse to help the party he had been leading until just over a month back to find a successor and help it get back on its feet.

Simply tweeting ‘it is an honour for me to serve the Congress Party, whose values and ideals have served as the lifeblood of our beautiful nation. I owe the country and my organisation a debt of tremendous gratitude and love’ doesn’t hack it.

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Deal-making won’t offer a long-term solution because the perceptions of the players who make the deals might keep changing and tip the balance of power within the party. A revolving-door presidency will be disastrous for the Congress. Stability and direction are the two things that are absolutely essential. The Congress grew up on electoral contests. They didn’t break the party. The party split in 1969 and 1978 for completely different reasons.

At present, the Congress is very fragile. Some in the party could be forgiven for thinking that a bruising election for the Congress presidency wouldn’t be in the party’s best interests and could end up opening up rifts that would effectively kill the party. That is perhaps a fear that is not entirely illegitimate. The problem is that the alternative is worse.

The only consolation for the ‘central’ leadership, insofar as the party has one minus the Gandhis, is that there are no really strong state satraps to complicate the equation. So, if the AICC elects a new president through a process that is credible, and seen to be credible, he or she might just have enough firepower to oversee an overhaul of the party. Need it be emphasised that the Congress could do with one?

Updated Date: Jul 03, 2019 23:26:02 IST