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Suspense over Rahul Gandhi’s role lingers as allies, colleagues urge rethink

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot separately met Priyanka Gandhi at Rahul Gandhi’s home and discussed the Lok Sabha election results.

india Updated: May 29, 2019 00:24 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rahul Gandhi,Priyanka Gandhi,BJP
Rahul Gandhi is upset over the party’s dismal performance in the Lok Sabha elections in which the Congress managed to win just 52 seats compared to 303 seats for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

Suspense prevails over Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s future at the helm of the 133-year-old party as colleagues and allies sought to persuade him on Tuesday to continue to steer the organisation, struggling to come to terms with its crushing defeat in the 17th general election.

On Tuesday, Rahul Gandhi met sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala and general secretary in-charge of organisation KC Venugopal at his 12, Tughlaq Lane residence.While Surjewala was there for his daily briefing, Venugopal is learned to have discussed the latest political developments in Karnataka with Gandhi.

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot separately met Priyanka Gandhi at Rahul Gandhi’s home and discussed the Lok Sabha election results. They could not meet the Congress president. Rahul Gandhi, along with Priyanka Gandhi, then drove to United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s 10, Janpath residence for lunch.

Later, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were back in 12, Tughlaq Lane, where they held a closed-door meeting till 6.30pm, details of which were not known.

Rahul Gandhi is upset over the party’s dismal performance in the Lok Sabha elections in which the Congress managed to win just 52 seats compared to 303 seats for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Rahul Gandhi’s insistence on quitting has brought to the fore a clear divide in the Congress, with young leaders arguing that he is unlikely to relent but seniors expressing the hope that he will continue to lead the party in the absence of an alternative.

A Congress functionary rejected the argument that a prolonged crisis could end up hurting the grand old party.

“It is an unequivocal rebuttal to the BJP’s false narrative that the Congress was a dynastic party in which, the Gandhi family hankered for power. That Gandhi is still firm on giving up his post and wants a non-Gandhi take over the reins suggest that this was not a perfunctory offer as was widely speculated when the first report of the resignation came in,” he said.

“In the end if Gandhi relents, it would also help him emerge stronger within the party, letting him take decisions on merits rather than be guided by the need to balance various pressure groups within the party,” the leader said on condition of anonymity.

Officially, the Congress maintained that there was no crisis and that the Congress Working Committee (CWC) resolution rejecting Rahul Gandhi’s resignation offer stands as of now.

“There is no crisis going on in the party except in the media,” Surjewala said after the meeting.

Addressing a news conference at the party headquarters in Delhi, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said, “There is a CWC resolution that you have been apprised of several times. I think let it rest there. Let us not indulge in any speculation. This resolution of CWC stands and that is where we are.”

The fractious CWC meeting on Saturday saw Gandhi slamming some veterans for “placing the interests” of their sons above the party in the Lok Sabha elections.

Gandhi also said that some leaders were unable to win elections from their strongholds, and suggested some were busy hankering for posts.

At the meeting, a visibly upset Gandhi offered his resignation and asked the CWC to elect a new chief but the party’s highest decision-making body unanimously rejected the offer and passed a resolution authorising him to revamp the organisation.

The party had on Monday issued a formal statement after Venugopal and Ahmed Patel met Gandhi, describing as “uncalled for and unwarranted” speculation in the media about the party in the aftermath of the CWC meeting.

Priyanka Gandhi’s meetings with Gehlot and Pilot on Tuesday came amid rumblings of discontent in the party organisation in the state, where it formed government in December but failed to win even one of the 25 Lok Sabha seats.

In Jaipur, officials considered close to Gehlot said he had spent only a fraction of his time to campaign in Jodhpur for his son Vaibhav Gehlot, seeking to counter allegations that his pre-occupation with his son’s campaign contributed to the Congress’s loss in the state. The officials, seeking anonymity, provided a list of public meetings addressed by Gehlot in Rajasthan during the Lok Sabha election campaign to claim that he addressed 104 rallies, of which only 14 were in his son’s constituency, Jodhpur. Gehlot participated in the filing of nomination papers by 22 of the 25 Congress Lok Sabha candidates and visited every Lok Sabha constituency at least thrice, they said.

Meanwhile, reports of a deepening rift between the Congress and its coalition partner in Karnataka came in from Bengaluru.

A battery of leaders of alliance partners also urged Rahul Gandhi not to resign, prominent among them being Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief MK Stalin and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad who said the move could be “suicidal” and amount to “falling into the BJP’s trap”.

Stalin called Rahul Gandhi on the phone to urge him to stay put at the helm of the Congress.

“Though your party has failed in consolidating votes, you have won the hearts of Indians. So, you should give up the idea of resigning from the Congress president’s post,” Stalin said to Rahul Gandhi, according to a DMK statement.

Another Tamil leader, actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth also said that there was no need for the Congress president to resign “He (Rahul Gandhi) should not resign. He should prove he can do it. In democracy the opposition should also be strong,” Rajinikanth, who announced in 2017 his decision to join politics, but is yet to take the electoral plunge, said.

Jailed RJD leader Lalu Prasad also said that by resigning Gandhi would walk into “the BJP trap”. In an analysis published in The Telegraph newspaper, Prasad, serving a jail term in a fodder scam case, said: “Rahul’s offer to resign is suicidal. Opposition parties had the common goal to dislodge BJP but failed to build a national narrative. The result in a particular election can never alter the reality in as diverse and plural a country as India.”

“The moment someone beyond the Gandhi-Nehru family replaces Rahul, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah brigade will paint the new leader as ‘puppet’ remotely controlled by Rahul and Sonia Gandhi…why should Rahul give such an opportunity to his political detractors,” Prasad wrote.

Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram lawmaker Shashi Tharoor said Gandhi was the right person to lead the party and that the “Congress has no time to sit and lick its wounds as it must immediately pick itself up for the upcoming state elections”, PTI reported.

Senior leader and Rajya Sabha MP Abhishek Singhvi called for drastic changes in the organisation such as an age limit on key posts and suggested that Gandhi consider undertaking a yatra to bolster his connection with the people.

“As a concerned Congressman, I feel Rahul should not resign as it would be playing in the BJP’s hand. I believe he should consider a 90 or 180-day-long train (journey)-cum-padyatra. It will certainly help in better connection with people,” Singhvi said.

First Published: May 29, 2019 00:21 IST