Why Rahul Gandhi must stay on as Congress chief

The Congress leaders who had basked in her glory, turned ambitious and got together to send her packing.

The many analyses of the challenges that the Opposition, and particularly the Congress Party, faces today in the aftermath of the massive victory of the BJP in the recent general election, and particularly so in the context of the leadership crisis in the Congress, make sense.

It was the need of the hour for a younger leadership in keeping with the changed demographics of the country that brought Rahul Gandhi to the centrestage of the party as its general secretary, then vice-president and finally as Congress president, with the endorsement of the AICC general body at each stage. It was a process that took 10 years and was not a one-step jump.

Yes, the Opposition has fared badly for many, many reasons which will be analysed in the coming days. It is not all black and white, as some would have us believe.

A biased and pro-establishment press, unlimited money power, the outreach of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the star campaigner of the BJP with all the government machinery at his command, the EVM mystery, a hostile Election Commission and the whipping up of nationalist fervour in the wake of the Pulwama terror strike and the Balakote airstrikes that followed, besides the failure of the Opposition parties to unite in crucial states, all had their impact on the results.

One must admit that the Congress has fared poorly. The failure of the state leaderships to unite and fight the battles locally, the wrong selection of candidates, lack of resources, and the late launch of the campaign have all contributed to this debacle. Yet, one must also say that no one could have worked and campaigned harder than Rahul Gandhi did. In the dust and heat, criss-crossing the country, reaching out to voters with rallies and assorted roadshows, press interviews and conferences, taking on the BJP and its leadership, he fought the battle single-handedly. Where the state leadership was effective, the Modi juggernaut was halted or at least contained as in Punjab and Kerala, not to mention the effective battle of the DMK, BJD, Trinamul Congress, TRS and YSRC.

To blame just Rahul or just the Gandhis, for that matter, is not just unfair but ridiculous. Where were all the tall leaders, sitting in decision-making positions in Delhi, during the campaign? It was Sonia Gandhi who, as Congress president and chairman of the UPA with Dr Manmohan Singh, that had led the party to victory in 2009, even as Mrs Gandhi had done it alone in 2004 defeating the popular sitting PM, the late Atal Behari Vajpayee. Then, when the Congress swept three states and formed the government in Karnataka in alliance in 2018, no one wrote about the faultlines in the Congress leadership.

I was witness, as a young AICC joint secretary, as events unfolded after the defeat of 1977. Yes, the Congress Party had paid the price for the Emergency and both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi were routed. The slogans of the Opposition in the streets were “Phaansi do, phaansi do, Indira Gandhi ko phaansi do”. They jailed her, they humiliated her, they wrote her epitaph and “buried” the Congress. The Congress leaders who had basked in her glory, turned ambitious and got together to send her packing. “The people are angry”, one senior leader told her, and “it is better you do notappear in public”. But there were others led by Devraj Urs who insisted that she lead the fightback and go to the people. I was with her when she toured the South —Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh — with rousing receptions wherever she went, and was finally elected back to Parliament from Chickmagalur. The Shah Commission’s sittings in Delhi with loudspeakers installed, arrests, cases and every kind of harassment did not deter her.She
was on elephantback in Belchi in the rain in 1978, and at Paunar Ashram in Vidharba. In no time the cry was “Lathi, goli khayenge, Indiraji ko wapas layenge”, and we saw her return as Prime Minister in two and a half years. Every party faces ups and downs, defeats and victories in a democracy. The wheel of fortune never stands still in politics. I have seen this happen in my 50 years of public life — within and outside Parliament — both in the government and in the Opposition.

Those who want Rahul out are self-seekers. Not one of those who sat in decision-making positions have offered
to quit, sharing the moral responsibility for the defeat. Why is only Rahul to blame? Was it only Sonia with her frail health that was responsible for the defeat? Do some soul-searching, my fellow Congressmen, and have the courage to face the consequences of the defeat of 2019. Many are jumping sides abandoning what they consider a “sinking ship”. This is nothing new. There will be homecomings when the tide turns.

I would add in conclusion that this is not the end. A “Congress-mukt Bharat” will never be. We have history, achievements, ideology and commitment on our side. The Congress will rise again with organisational and ideological recasting. Rahul Ganhi must have the courage to continue leading the fight to victory.

The writer, a senior member of the Congress Party, is a former governor of Rajasthan and Uttarakhand

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