The crushing defeat of their parties in the recently concluded general election has caused at least two senior politicians to offer to resign. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, faced with dissent in his Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), is one; and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's (DMK's) treasurer, M K Stalin, son of the party patriarch, M Karunanidhi, is another. Messrs Kumar and Stalin were the men in charge of their parties' campaigns. The JD(U) was blown away by the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); it secured only two seats. The DMK did even worse; it failed to win a single constituency. Whether or not these resignations are followed through with is another matter. For example, it is possible that Mr Kumar will be made to recognise that Bihar's development story is still fragile and requires the stability he has provided so far. But nobody can question his commitment to his party, and the fact that he has chosen to make himself properly accountable. Sadly, that accountability is missing in some other parties. Perhaps it is too much to expect the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, wiped out in Uttar Pradesh, to quit. But at least Mayawati can argue that her party's vote share did not decline precipitously and that the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election is her primary focus. That argument is not available to the leaders of the Congress party, which has been reduced to a shadow of its former self at 44 seats. This is the party's worst performance.
While the Congress need not be declared dead yet - remember, in the wave election of 1984, the BJP won just two seats in Parliament - it is certainly on life support. And yet, the Congress leadership has failed to truly take responsibility. In a press conference on Friday, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who was in charge of the campaign, did not even look like he grasped the enormity of the situation - one in which his party has lost even the automatic right to name the leader of the Opposition. Only the Congress president and the vice-president deemed it necessary to accept or explain the party's defeat. There was no sign of the many general secretaries of the party; they seemed to be missing from the scene after the debacle. The Congress press conference stood in stark contrast to the one held by the victorious BJP on the same day, where it fielded its entire top team. Mr Gandhi was anointed vice-president and took over the campaign even before Mr Modi was named the BJP's prime ministerial candidate. But since Mr Gandhi took over, the Congress' fortunes have only floundered. The campaign has stuttered; and there is little doubt that Mr Gandhi's own image has been compromised. It is time for him to step aside, and for a new parliamentary leader to be freely chosen from among the ranks of surviving Congress MPs. If Congress president Sonia Gandhi does not herself want to take on that responsibility, there are many other possibilities - Jyotiraditya Scindia, perhaps, or Kamal Nath, two among those who fought off the Modi wave in north India. Or perhaps someone from the south. However, for the Congress to argue that the main reason for the party's failure in the elections was the government's inability to communicate its performance and policies effectively would be disingenuous. Mr Gandhi should take the responsibility for the party's electoral debacle and a new leader should be allowed to take charge.