- 1st time that Rahul Gandhi's decision to quit described as "walking away"
- No matter what happens we won't leave the party: Salman Khurshid
- Rahul Gandhi announced decision to quit as Congress chief after election
As the Congress gasps for air after its election defeat followed by open squabbling in several states and an exodus of party men, a senior leader has said that the "biggest problem" is that Rahul Gandhi "walked away". Salman Khurshid, a former union minister, is quoted by the Associated Press as saying that the 49-year-old "left in a huff" and his mother Sonia Gandhi appears to be treating herself as a stop-gap until a new Congress chief is chosen, possibly after the October state polls.
"We haven't really got together to analyze why we got defeated. Our biggest problem is our leader has walked away," Mr Khurshid was quoted as saying in the AP report.
"It's kind of left a vacuum. Sonia Gandhi stepped in, but there is more than an indication that she is treating herself as a stop-gap arrangement. I wish it wasn't so," Mr Khurshid reportedly said.
This is the first time that Rahul Gandhi's decision to quit has been described as "walking away", a term also seen to imply that he left at a time the party needed to examine why it crashed. Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera, reacting to the remarks, said: "People should avoid making such side comments and should actually expose this government for its follies which are plenty."
Mr Khurshid's comments are significant also at a time rival parties have questioned Rahul Gandhi's absence at the height of the campaign for the Maharashtra and Haryana polls. Reports suggest he is at a meditation camp in Cambodia.
This morning, Mr Khurshid doubled down on the comments that boldface the grand old party's existential crisis.
Using the term "walking away" again, the Congress veteran told news agency ANI: "I have very deep pain and concern about where we are today as a party. No matter what happens we won't leave the party, we aren't like those who got everything from the party and when the chips were down, things were difficult they left the party and walked away."
He also said Mr Gandhi resigned "despite our earnest pleading" and if he had stayed, the Congress would have done a proper post-mortem.
"Rahul Gandhi is not the president now but still he is the main leader of our party. This is perhaps the only time in history that a major defeat has not caused the party to lose confidence in their leader. If he had stayed and was around, we would have understood better the causes of our defeat and be better prepared to fight the battles in coming times," Mr Khurshid said. He also stressed that Sonia Gandhi should lead from the front and become permanent president of the Congress.
"We have very less time and the party should take some immediate steps. The reason for some delay in those steps was because our leader Rahul Gandhi has left us. By this I mean that he was our president and we wanted him to be on that seat for long," he said.
Mr Khurshid, 66, is a prominent leader from Uttar Pradesh, which became the biggest sign of the Congress's abject downfall in the national election; the party went from two to only one of 80 seats in India's most populous and politically vital state and Rahul Gandhi lost Amethi, his parliamentary seat since he debuted in elections in 2004.
Despite Mr Gandhi's aggressive campaign, the Congress could win only 52 seats across the country, compared to the BJP's gigantic 303.
Soon after the elections, Mr Gandhi announced that he would no longer stay Congress president, a post that he had taken in 2017 from his mother Sonia Gandhi, the party's chief for 19 years.
No amount of cajoling by top leaders could bring him around, and in August, his mother was asked to take over as interim chief.
In the months after the elections, with a forced vacancy at the top, the divides within became more and more pronounced. The party lost power in Karnataka after multiple exits. In Maharashtra and Haryana, which will vote on October 21, senior leaders have either publicly revolted or quit and switched to the rival BJP.