Congress is not used to having a non-Gandhi party president. Will that change?

On the day of results to the Lok Sabha election, one thing was absolutely clear, Narendra Modi is set to be the Prime Minister again. But there was one thing which was uncertain, what will be Rahul Gandhi’s future, or more importantly, Congress’ future.

The electorate has rejected Congress’ vision for the country various times for the past 5 years. This Lok Sabha elections, Congress improved its tally marginally by getting just 52 seats, eight better from the last time’s 44. The Lok Sabha election debacle, plus all the drubbings they received in various state elections has compelled Rahul Gandhi to vacate his post for someone who can steer the Grand Old Party from this quagmire.

But Rahul Gandhi’s resignation has created a furore in the party, many Congress lawmakers have resigned saying that they want Rahul Gandhi to continue as the president. Medium level karyakartas and senior leaders alike, all are of the view that Rahul Gandhi is the one who can guide the opposition to kill the giant of Narendra Modi. But considering the resignation letter Rahul Gandhi posted on social media, it seems finally Rahul Gandhi has shown his decisive side to the people, just not in the way his party would like.

But the history of the party has shown that the party has not been able to resist the temptation of having a Gandhi as the leader.

Till 1977, the posts of the PM of India and the President of Congress Party were always held by two different individuals except for some occasions. This trend was changed by Indira Gandhi in 1978, where she held the post of the Party President and then the Prime Minister of the country. She continued the trend of holding both the posts simultaneously. In 1984, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minster, and even he continued the trend his mother started. Little did he know how this trend will shake the Congress party to its core in the decades to come.

Sanjaya Baru, in his book 1991: How P.V. Narsimha Rao Made History, says, “In the Congress system developed under Indira and her son, control over the government, its machinery and its munificence, became the route to acquire and retain dominance within the party”. And this “dominance” has always been maintained by a Gandhi family member. When Sanjay Gandhi was alive, he was supposed to be the successor of the most influential Indian political family, his sudden death, and then his mother’s death after some years, made Rajiv Gandhi the natural choice for the people who believe that only a Gandhi can lead the party. There has been a long standing opinion in the party, shared by almost all senior leaders, that they all owe the success of their political careers to the Gandhi family. This is the reason that whenever a Gandhi has left the party, all eyes go to the next Gandhi in line for leadership and guidance.

It is exactly this kind of attitude that has landed the Congress in the problem it is in now. Decades of sycophancy has etched into the minds of the Congress people that there is no one capable enough to lead the party who doesn’t have the last name Gandhi.

After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the original option to replace him as the party president was his wife, Sonia Gandhi, but she wasn’t ready for an active life in politics. This is the reason the party went with PV Narsimha Rao, a non-Gandhi to be the PM and the party president.

As Sanjaya Baru puts it in his book, the year 1991 was a milestone year not only in economic sense, but also in political sense. The election of PV Narsimha Rao as the Congress Party president gave a new hope to the country that the Congress party, which was built on the ideas of visionaries like Mahatma Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is no longer a family proprietorship. It has now become a democratic party where anyone can hope to aspire for the top post of the party.

All these hopes were shattered after 1998, when Sitaram Kesri, the then party president was removed from the post after a coup against him, installing Sonia Gandhi as the party president. It is even said that during the coup, Sitaram Kesri was locked in a room when the Congress Working Committee voted him out.

This history of Congress party is evidence enough to prove that Congress leaders are so used to having a Gandhi being at the helm of affairs that they believe that removal of Rahul Gandhi endangers the existence of the party. It is also very hard for the people to believe that even if Rahul Gandhi is serious about resigning, there is no way that Gandhis are not running the show from behind the scenes. Maybe that is why name of Adhir Choudhary was proposed as the replacement to Rahul Gandhi, neglecting senior leaders such as Shashi Tharoor, Amarinder Singh or Sachin Pilot.

The present situation has created a sense of uncertainty in the minds of the people. The Congress party has still not been able to find a new leader who can replace Rahul Gandhi. Congress is used to creating such drama to keep the voters guessing as to what will happen. Rahul Gandhi has given resignations in the past but those have been turned down. Even this time, the CWC rejected Rahul Gandhi’s resignation, but the political scion seemed adamant to quit

Until now, all of it seems like a sham, keep the people speculating long enough that they forget about it. And if this is not the case, then Rahul Gandhi is not doing the party any service by keeping the top post of the party empty, given that three state elections are due in some months.

Dhairya Nagpal is a writing analyst at Qrius

Indian National CongressIndian PoliticsRahul Gandhi