Rahul Gandhi's resignation as Congress chief raises more questions than answers for party, results in power vacuum

Days ahead of Rahul Gandhi being formally anointed as Congress president in December 2017, the First Family loyalist and former Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar propounded an interesting theory to counter those commenting on the absence of a democratic and transparent process. The thrust of his argument went thus: Rahul was destined to lead the party since he was born into the Nehru-Gandhi family,

When Shah Jahan came in the place of Jahangir was there an election? When Aurangzeb came in place of Shah Jahan, was there an election? No. It was known to everyone earlier that the throne of the emperor will automatically go to the king’s heir. If they fight amongst themselves, it is a different matter,” Aiyar said.

 Rahul Gandhis resignation as Congress chief raises more questions than answers for party, results in power vacuum

File image of former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Rahul has finally made official what has been reported (based on sources) for around a month: He has resigned from the post of Congress president. "I am no longer the Congress president. I have already resigned. The CWC should convene a meeting immediately and decide on the new Congress president," he told media at Parliament House Wednesday.

He later tweeted his resignation letter to the Congress Working Committee (CWC), in which he said that immediately after he gave notice, he told his colleagues to entrust a group of people to begin the search for a new president. “I have empowered them to do so,” Rahul wrote.

Aiyar’s words on Rahul ascension to the post of Congress president also apply to Rahul's resignation. Having resigned as Congress president, in what capacity did Rahul empower the CWC? If Rahul did so ahead of his resignation, that would have been a different matter as he would have been guiding the CWC as the party chief. After his resignation, Rahul isn't even a member of the CWC.

But he is a Gandhi.

Also, to whom did Rahul resign? A resignation letter must be addressed to someone. But Rahul's letter isn't. It reads like a note. The CWC, where Rahul first conveyed his decision, is not the forum to resign. His mother, who was Congress president for a record 19 years, is now the patron of the party and arguably the supreme authority in the party. But the letter isn't addressed to her.

Remember, in January 2013, when Rahul was elevated to the post of party vice-president, he said that the Congress party is a unique organisation which does not have any rules. Little did he remember that the Congress, which was founded in 1885 and is recognised as the oldest political party in India, has a written constitution.

Jairam Ramesh, considered a bright spot in the party ranks and in the UPA-I and UPA-II governments, said in August 2017: “Sultanate has gone, but we still behave like Sultans.” His sentiment appears to be extremely relevant for Rahul and the Congress of today.

The Congress is silent. Its spokespersons are silent.

Remember when there were so many media reports saying Rahul had resigned, and in a well-orchestrated move, senior party leaders turned up at his residence in New Delhi's Tuglaq Lane. Randeep Singh Surjewala, head of the party's communication department and Rahul's confidante declared "Rahul Gandhi was, is and will remain Congress president." Today, Surjewala is silent.

There are three problems with Rahul's decision to quit and his directive to the party to choose a new president: One may have an opinion on Rahul's leadership qualities  or lack thereof, but the fact remains that the Nehru-Gandhi family is the glue that binds the Congress.  Since Independence, the Congress has shaped itself so that loyalty to the First Family has become part of its DNA. The Congress is withering away and that process will only speed up without a Gandhi at the helm.

Second, Rahul says the party will decide who should be the next  chief and he is not going to be part of it. The Congress culture of a high command — the Nehru-Gandhi family and its advisors — is well known. The final decision either rests with the First Family or will be taken in its name. If Rahul's words are heeded, then one wonders who will take the final call.

Third, one of the principal reasons behind the clamour to make Rahul president (before he assumed the post) was the fact that with Sonia as president and Rahul as vice-president, a dual command had developed within the party, causing great deal of uncertainty and confusion. Sonia would send party leaders to Rahul for consultation and decision making. Rahul, in turn, would send them back to Sonia and this back and forth process would continue without a decision being taken.

The situation in Congress is even more complicated now. Apart from Sonia and Rahul at the top (though without any formal responsibility), Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has joined politics full time and is the party general secretary. As such, she is third power center in the party. A new president will become the fourth power center. Given the Congress culture, as was amply reflected during UPA I and II, the Congress president will also have to get approval from Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka for all the decisions that will be taken.

There is speculation that either Motilal Vora or Sushil Kumar Shinde will be named interim Congress president.

It’s time for Rahul to remember his own words (spoken in October 2013) in the context of upliftment of Dalits. That the Congress "needs the escape velocity of Jupiter" to achieve success.

Updated Date: Jul 03, 2019 19:08:09 IST