New Delhi: After the unmitigated collapse in Uttar Pradesh, Congress leaders appear to have agreed upon two matters: that the party is in unprecedented crisis and that Rahul Gandhi's run as boss should not be truncated.
- Congress agrees despite debacle, Rahul Gandhi must not quit
- His comments on UP defeat did not acknowledge his role
- Congress agrees on crisis, but says Gandhi not to blame
Mr Gandhi himself has publicly claimed no part of the defeat that saw the Congress collect just seven seats in the country' most-populous state. While opponents and commentators have expressed surprise over his stand, his party maintains that Mr Gandhi must not be challenged as its show-runner.
"He is a good leader, he is trying to do his best," said Priya Dutt, a former Congress MP from Mumbai. "He is trying to lead the party in a certain direction, (but) it has not worked for a long time now," she conceded. That is about the most criticism that the Congress is willing to make of its 46-year-old Vice President whose mother, Sonia Gandhi, is party chief but has largely handed over control to him.
What has emerged since Saturday, when the results from UP and other states were announced, is a chorus for "introspection" - standard offering by the Congress in place of action after every electoral defeat (and that spree is getting longer) - and a call for penalizing unnamed party seniors in charge of crucial decisions.
Raj Babbar, actor-turned - politician, who is the Congress President in Uttar Pradesh, offered to quit today. In Goa, where the Congress won the most seats but was outwitted and outclassed by the BJP in winning crucial support from regional parties, legislators are complaining about Digvijaya Singh, the central leader placed in charge of the coastal state.
But Mr Gandhi, who was the Congress' main campaigner in Uttar Pradesh, remains exempt from accountability. "It has become a fashion to bash Rahul Gandhi," said party leader Renuka Chowdhury. "Rahul Gandhi must not step down. The Nehru - Gandhi family is the biggest binding factor for the Congress," Mr Singh proclaimed after the UP result was declared.
The Congress won a notable victory in Punjab, but that is largely on account of Captain Amarinder Singh, the 75-year-old who was its presumptive Chief Minister. As one party leader after another complains about the lack of regional leadership, he is pointed to as an example of what can be accomplished if state leaders are groomed and supported.
Mr Gandhi's first foray as his party's main vote - getter was made in 2014; the Congress descended to its worst - ever result. In contrast, Narendra Modi won the country with a huge mandate to become Prime Minister. Since then, his BJP has triumphed in state elections.
"We needed to really work on ourselves from 2014 to now... we have not been able to rectify our mistakes," said Ms Dutt, acknowledging that the Congress has chronic inertia. When asked if Mr Gandhi should not be treated as culpable for the party's catastrophic performance, she said, "Yes, Rahul Gandhi and other leaders in the state have to take responsibility" but stressed again that "changing him or one person will not fix things."
She was far more strident on Twitter this morning, where she posted that the Congress "suffers from an autoimmune disease...Congress destroys Congress."