- Congress's top decision-making body (CWC) met to discuss election debacle
- Party chief Rahul Gandhi offered to quit; party "unanimously" rejected it
- "We need Rahul Gandhi to guide us in these challenging times": Congress
Rahul Gandhi is firm on resigning as Congress president over the party's appalling performance in the election even after his offer was unanimously rejected at a meeting on Saturday by top leaders, who spoke once again of "thorough introspection", resorting to a refrain that has enabled much mockery of it in the past.
Rahul Gandhi, 48, told the Congress Working Committee, which consists of 52 members, that he would like to exit as its top boss nearly a year and a half after he took the job from his mother Sonia Gandhi, who was seated next to him at the meeting that ran four hours.
"We have to continue our fight. I am and will remain a disciplined soldier of the Congress and continue to fight fearlessly. But I do not want to remain the party president," Mr Gandhi reportedly said.
Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra - Rahul Gandhi's sister - reportedly joined other leaders in trying to talk him out of his decision but finally said that his personal wish should be respected. Priyanka Gandhi reportedly asked her brother to give the party some time for an alternative plan.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh also asked him to reconsider, say sources.
Mr Gandhi reportedly made it clear that he would not "vanish" and would continue to work for the party, but that he would not budge on his decision.
"If not you, then who," Congress leaders reportedly protested. When Priyanka Gandhi's name came up, Mr Gandhi reportedly said: "Don't drag my sister into it."
He added: "It is not necessary that the president should be from Gandhi family."
The Congress said it "needs him", spokespersons and representatives said at a briefing that began nearly 45 minutes late because of the back-and-forth.
When the meeting ended, Mr Gandhi left without a word to the media; he was tellingly not present at the press conference that was addressed by several Congress leaders.
Mr Gandhi's resolve presents a huge dilemma for the Congress, which has rarely looked beyond the Nehru-Gandhi family for leadership, against all reason.
The Congress held its post-mortem three days after its net worth in the general election hit 52 seats, just eight up from 2014, which was its worst-ever result. Mr Gandhi, at a press conference that evening, was asked by NDTV's reporter what sort of responsibility he assumes for the loss. "100%", he replied.
The complete and total collapse of the appeal of the Congress was exemplified by Mr Gandhi's defeat in Amethi, the constituency that has been held by his family for four decades and which elected Mr Gandhi for three terms to parliament. In 2014, the BJP's Smriti Irani lost to him; it has taken her just five years to evict him from a Nehru-Gandhi bastion.
Mr Gandhi will remain an MP on account of his victory from Wayanad, the constituency he contested from Kerala.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the BJP to a back-to-back majority, with the party improving upon its last result, a feat not accomplished in Indian politics in decades.
The intensity and immensity of his triumph, which owes much to its emphasis on nationalism and the irrefutable appeal of Mr Modi, records how effectively the BJP demolished Mr Gandhi's strategy and his many missteps: of poorly-handled alliances, of accusing Mr Modi of corruption with the "chowkidar chor hai" slogan which he raised at all his rallies in connection with a multi-billion dollar French fighter jet deal, of failing to communicate clearly or early how his party will help farmers whose distress has surged quite apart from an unimaginative PR campaign that launched late.
Though senior Congress leaders have privately admitted these shortcomings helped create a political sinkhole, on record on Saturday, the Working Committee said it had authorized Mr Gandhi to overhaul the party. This suggests that Mr Gandhi did not have unlimited powers thus far - and that it is the absence of these that may have impeded his strike rate.
In December, the Congress won three major heartland states, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The struggle of farmers at the time against debt, crop prices and an element of anti-incumbency against the BJP, which held these states, worked well for Mr Gandhi. But the infamous Congress complacency and infighting consumed those gains within five months.
In the end, it turned out it wasn't even close.
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