In the face of the Congress’ worst electoral defeat in more than six decades, party vice-president and the party’s face for the 2014 polls Rahul Gandhi owned up responsibility for the debacle before the media, saying there was “a lot for us to think about”.
But Congress president Sonia Gandhi immediately took over from him and read out a 175-word statement in Hindi, taking the blame for the defeat as questions were being raised about Rahul’s leadership and style of functioning.
Hours later, she called a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body, on Monday to take stock of the poll outcome and discuss the strategy for the future.
Sources told HT that many heads, including chief ministers, are expected to roll after the party’s poor showing in their respective states, particularly those where the Congress failed to get even a single seat. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has offered to resign.
With trends indicating a landslide for the BJP-led NDA early in the day and many senior Congress leaders losing the elections, party spokespersons struggled to explain the abysmal performance. By then, senior leaders, including Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Ashwani Kumar and Anil Shastri, had also raised the demand for serious introspection.
Sonia and Rahul finally stood up and formally accepted defeat at 4.30pm. “The Congress has done badly in the elections and the party will need to think about it. As Congress vice-president, with all humility I take responsibility for this debacle,” said Rahul.
After he finished speaking, Sonia read out her statement. “The people’s mandate is against us and I humbly accept the verdict... As Congress president, I take responsibility for it,” she said.
Without naming Narendra Modi, both congratulated the incoming government that will be led by him. During their brief appearance before the media, the two did not take any questions. Sonia pulled Rahul away when he stopped to answer a query.
The party won 44 seats, beating its previous low of 114 seats in 1999. It failed to open its account in seven states and did not cross the double-digit mark in any state.
So complete was the decimation – its tally is less than 10% of the total seats in the lower House -- that the Congress runs the risk of its leader not being recognised as leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. However, the decision rests with the Speaker.
The Congress leadership also made it clear that the party will continue to fight for social harmony and issues of national interest. “We hope the government that will be formed at the Centre will not compromise the unity of Indian society and the interests of the country,” said Sonia, in an indirect reference to the BJP’s policies that the Congress alleges are “divisive”.