Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. This seems to be the predicament of Rahul Gandhi, who quit as Congress president one-and-a-half months after his party suffered a crushing defeat in the general elections. When he first offered to quit after the poll results came in, he was fervently requested by party members to reconsider his move. This was enough for his detractors to make snide remarks about a Congress culture allegedly forever beholden to the Nehru-Gandhi family. Now that he has formally resigned and dropped “Congress President" from his Twitter bio, his political opponents are subjecting him to further ridicule. Worse, they insinuate that the family would somehow continue to wield control over party apparatus. Yet, there is ample evidence of Gandhi’s sincerity. The resignation letter he has put out appears to affirm so.
As party general secretary, Rahul strove to bring about structural changes in the Congress’s youth wings. He held a US primaries-like process and conducted interviews to appoint Indian Youth Congress office bearers. He also displayed disarming honesty when he admitted he owed his political position to his genes, but vowed to usher in changes that reflected the spirit of India’s Constitutional democracy. This triggered some anxiety among the party’s Old Guard, who were said to be unhappy with the Gandhi scion’s quest to empower young leaders with no political lineage.
Rahul Gandhi may have quit, taking responsibility for the party’s defeat, but he has emphasized that he is not stepping back from the ideological fight with the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Whether his stepping down heralds a culture of accountability within the Grand Old Party would depend on the manner in which a successor is appointed. The Congress must hold organizational polls in a transparent, democratic fashion, and, as Gandhi himself has urged, let the party pick a leader who could revitalize a party that needs to transform itself. The next Lok Sabha elections are five years away, but there’s a crucial job on hand right now. After all, the people of India deserve a strong, vibrant opposition to keep the government in check.