Suspense prevails over Congress presidency as Rahul Gandhi skips topic on birthday; lack of clarity affecting morale, say party workers

Right from 9 am on Wednesday, 24 Akbar Road was abuzz as supporters of the Congress party were eagerly waiting outside the headquarters of the All India Congress Committee, to have a glimpse of their leader Rahul Gandhi and wish him 'Happy Birthday'.

Inside the campus, party workers were waiting at a corner for the arrival of the Congress president. But contrary to December 2017, when Rahul had become party president, this time the atmosphere didn’t reflect a similar celebratory mood.

It was for the first time today, after facing a massive defeat in the Lok Sabha election that Rahul was meeting his party workers.

 Suspense prevails over Congress presidency as Rahul Gandhi skips topic on birthday; lack of clarity affecting morale, say party workers

Rahul Gandhi meets party workers on his birthday inside Congress HQ in Delhi. Debobrat Ghose

Slogans from outside the iconic Congress headquarter could be heard intermittently, which too lacked the high pitch and fervor that had reverberated Akbar Road two years ago.

The drubbing in the election has virtually dampened the spirit of Congress supporters. Despite an air of gloom, Rahul’s birthday today gave them an occasion to gather and cheer.

But, what the Congress workers and supporters actually wanted to hear from Rahul today, eventually didn’t happen.

After exchanging pleasantries and conveying thanks to the gathering for birthday wishes, Rahul left, keeping party workers again under a cloud of suspense.

There wasn’t any word on Rahul continuing as Congress president.

A few Youth Congress workers, who came to wish Rahul with bouquets told Firstpost, "No one can replace Rahulji as party president. We want him to remain the Congress chief, but there’s no clarity from the top on this issue. This uncertainty has been bothering all of us and pulling down our morale."

This Parliamentary election was the first one fought under Rahul’s leadership as Congress president. Challenges were immense as the contest was against Narendra Modi-led BJP and his party leaders kept feeding Rahul with inaccurate information that Congress would secure enough seats (up to 185) to form an alliance government. Ultimately, it didn’t happen. However, Congress increased its tally from 44 seats in 2014 to 52 this time.

Immediately after the defeat, Rahul had offered to step down from the post of Congress president, which was resisted by party leaders. Even in the CWC meeting, no decision could be reached, as Rahul was adamant on his stand. He wanted someone from outside the Nehru-Gandhi family to take the charge of Congress chief.

Meanwhile, as expected, senior party leaders tried to give the message that only Rahul would continue.

In a meeting of the party’s strategy group headed by Congress parliamentary party leader, Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday, Rahul refused to become the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha, and ultimately five-time MP from West Bengal, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was selected for the post.

In this meeting, despite party’s reiteration that he should continue as party president, Rahul continued to stick to his stand of stepping down from the post.

However, after the meeting Congress' communication head Randeep Surjewala stated that Rahul would remain the Congress chief.

But all these assurances from different party leaders didn’t seem to satisfy party workers and supporters, as they wanted to hear it from none other than Rahul himself.

“There’s no question of Rahul not leading the Congress. He will remain the president of the party, come what may,” a Congress leader asserted.

"All of us have seen how he campaigned across the country, led the party from the front and gave his best shot during the elections. It’s the cumulative responsibility of the party whether it wins or loses. There’s no question of his stepping down, as all of us in the party have been trying to convince Rahulji not to step down,” the leader told Firstpost on the condition of anonymity.

Post-election, Rahul’s comment in the CWC meeting stating that senior leaders (read Ashok Gehlot, P Chidambaram and Kamal Nath) gave more time to their sons' constituencies, stirred up the hornet’s nest. The fissures within Rajasthan Congress became public as blame-game took the centre stage.

Now the rift between the Karnataka Congress and the JD(S) has already become apparent.

Given the situation, can Rahul keep the party and its workers across the country in a limbo?

Lack of clear announcement on this issue from his end will cause more damage to the functioning of the party than the defeat itself.

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Updated Date: Jun 19, 2019 22:39:58 IST