Rahul insists on quitting as President of devastated Congress Party

Sunset over India’s Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty?
Special Report


Sonia Gandhi with son Rahul

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: After leading India’s 134-year-old Congress Party to its second most humiliating defeat in the recent parliamentary elections, its President Rahul Gandhi has resigned at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) here on May 25.

This was two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi led his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to its second consecutive victory with an unprecedented majority in the 17th Lok Sabha elections.

But the CWC summarily rejected Gandhi’s offer to quit, and appealed to him to continue to lead the devastated and demoralised party. But the 49-year-old bachelor is insisting on quitting, and has literally locked himself up at his home, and is refusing to meet worried Congressmen. And the Congress Party has ordered its spokesmen to keep their mouths shut and not show up on television chat shows at least for a month.

Rahul Gandhi is the sixth member of India’s most famous Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated the Congress Party and the country’s politics for a century. It was in 1919 that Motilal Nehru became the family’s first member to head the Congress Party as its President. He was elected as its chief for a second term in 1928.

His son Jawaharlal Nehru headed the party thrice (1929, 1930 and 1937) before India became independent in 1947. Thereafter, he became the country’s first Prime Minister, and also presided over the Congress Party’s fortunes for three years (1951-54).

Jawaharlal Nehru’s only daughter Indira Gandhi became the party chief for the first time in 1959 while he was prime minister. She went on to lead the party for six more years (1978-84). She became Prime Minister in January 1966 and held the position till March 1977, when she was defeated in a general election by a united opposition in the wake of her imposing the controversial and much-hated Emergency in June 1975. She staged a surprising comeback in January 1980 and ruled India till her assassination in October 1984.

Indira Gandhi was in no way related to Mahatma Gandhi, but inherited the famous surname from her Parsi husband Feroze Gandhi.

After her death, her surviving son Rajiv Gandhi succeeded her as the country’s Prime Minister as well as the Congress Party President. He was assassinated by Dhanu, a Sri Lankan LTTE suicide bomber, at an election rally at Sriperumbudur near Chennai in May 1991.

Rajiv’s Italian-born wife Sonia took over the reigns of a doddering Congress Party in 1998, and handed over its charge to her son Rahul Gandhi only in 2017 after heading it for a record 19 years. To her credit, Sonia led the party to two successive electoral victories in 2004 and 2009, and handed the Prime Ministership to Dr. Manmohan Singh.

But the Narendra Modi-led BJP ousted the Sonia-led Congress from power in the 2014 general election. She does not keep good health, and appointed Rahul as her successor as Congress President in 2017.

Thus, five members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty led the Congress Party for a total of 43 years.

And three members of the same clan ran India as Prime Ministers for a total of 37 years: Jawaharlal Nehru for 17 years (from 1947 till his death in 1964), Indira Gandhi for 15 years in two separate stints (1966-1977 and 1980-1984).

The last member of this family who ruled India was Rajiv Gandhi, but that was 30 years ago. Even though he led the Congress to a stunning victory in 1984, barely two months after his mother’s assassination, he was mired in the Bofors kickbacks scandal and the Congress lost the 1989 general election.

During the last 30 years, over 450 million Indians were born. Even though Sonia and Rahul led the Congress, they did not wield power as prime ministers. And for one-third of India’s population, the Nehru-Gandhi family name is only a fading memory.

Modi has caused a virtual tectonic shift in Indian politics since he stormed into office as prime minister in 2014 and led the BJP to a second historic victory last week.

As of now, a question mark the size of the Qutub Minar in Delhi and the Eiffel Tower in Paris hangs over the future of the Congress Party, and the Nehru-Gandhi family’s place in it.

But the party’s ageing leaders feel orphaned and insist on clinging to the family in the hope that it will reverse the party’s diminishing fortunes. How long the Congress will be kept out of power by the all-conquering Modi is a million-dollar question.   

Yet, unfazed by the party’s gloomy future, Sonia Gandhi was once again elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) at a meeting of party MPs at the Central Hall of Parliament on Saturday.

The meeting was attended by the party’s 52 newly elected Lok Sabha MPs and Rajya Sabha members. Mrs. Gandhi, who represents Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli in Lok Sabha, is the chairperson of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) as well.

"Smt. Sonia Gandhi elected as the leader of Congress Parliamentary Party! She says, ‘we thank the 121.3 million voters for reposing faith in the Congress Party’," Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted.

The MPs will also elect the Congress Party’s leader in the Lok Sabha and chalk out the party’s strategy for the upcoming session of Parliament, party sources said.

The CWC has already rejected Rahul Gandhi’s offer to resign, and unanimously passed a resolution authorising him to bring structural changes in the party at all levels in a bid to revamp it.

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