- Congress Working Committee meets after disastrous election result
- Congress increased 2014 tally by just 8 to a measly 52 seats
- Rahul Gandhi, face of high-pitched 2019 campaign, likely to offer to quit
Rahul Gandhi is likely to offer his resignation on Saturday before the top decision-making body of the Congress after the party's epic fail in the national election in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP and its allies won a spectacular mandate of over 350 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha.
The Congress Working Committee (CWC), which includes Rahul Gandhi, his mother Sonia Gandhi, sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, has begun its post-mortem in which chief ministers of Congress-ruled states - Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh - are also invitees.
The Congress, which dropped to a historic low of 44 seats in 2014, could only add eight more seats to its national tally with Rahul Gandhi's nationwide campaign circling around his "Chowkidar Chor Hai" barb for PM Modi failing to translate into votes.
The party was a washout in 17 states and union territories and couldn't do any better even in the three heartland states it won just in December. It won two seats in Chhattisgarh, one in Madhya Pradesh and none in Rajasthan.
Even Priyanka Gandhi's launch into the Uttar Pradesh battle couldn't salvage the Congress, which has always seen the younger Gandhi sibling as its force multiplier, its ultimate weapon. Despite her aggressive campaign in UP and her direct attacks on the PM, the Congress ended up with only one seat - Sonia Gandhi's Raebareli - of the state's 80 constituencies. The Prime Minister won from his seat Varanasi by a margin of over 4.7 lakh votes.
Rahul Gandhi, who lost even his traditional Amethi in Uttar Pradesh to the BJP's Smriti Irani - the win in Kerala's Wayanad was small consolation - had told reporters on Thursday that he accepted "100 per cent" responsibility for the debacle. Asked whether he would resign, the Congress chief said: "Let that be between me and the Working Committee."
Rahul Gandhi has called this meet today and he is almost certain to offer his resignation but whether the party will stick to its template or finally opt for drastic steps for its resurrection will be known later today.
In 2014, then Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi - who led the campaign as party vice president - had both offered to quit after the party plunged to a historic low of 44 seats. But the Congress, which has always been devoted to the Nehru-Gandhi family, rejected the offer and assumed "collective responsibility".
Three state chiefs of the party have already sent their resignations, which means additional pressure on their boss to take the onus.
In a tweet on Thursday, Raj Babbar had owned responsibility for the Congress's disaster in Uttar Pradesh. "The results are depressing for the Uttar Pradesh Congress. I find myself guilty of not discharging my responsibility in a proper manner," he had tweeted.
Outside the party, the assessment of Rahul Gandhi's performance has been far more unforgiving after the Congress's second consecutive loss in the national election. Historian Ramachandra Guha, who has often praised the Congress chief's great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, tweeted on Friday, "It is astonishing that Rahul Gandhi has not yet resigned as Congress president. Both self-respect as well as political pragmatism, demand that the Congress elect a new leader. But perhaps the Congress has neither."