Over a month after Congress President Rahul Gandhi said he wished to quit as the party chief, over 130 Congress office bearers on Friday resigned from their respective posts to show solidarity with him. Some threatened to protest outside the homes of other senior party office bearers in the days to come, if the latter did not follow their example of quitting their respective posts and give Gandhi a “free hand” to restructure the party.
Leaders who quit said accountability for the party’s failure in the Lok Sabha needed to be fixed, and should not stop merely with the resignation of Gandhi.
The battle within the Congress is increasingly one between the party’s old guard and the young leadership. The sense among the younger leaders is that Gandhi’s hands need strengthening for him to purge several from the old guard to restructure the party. However, those in the old guard argue that Gandhi had led the party’s campaign from the front and most of the decisions were his.
Over 300 party leaders and workers gathered at 24, Akbar Road, the national headquarters of the Congress in the national capital, for an ‘unscheduled’ meeting on Friday. Over 130 of them later quit from their respective posts. These included office bearers of the party’s youth wings, state units and students’ wing.
The most notable of front ranking leaders who have quit until now are party’s ‘law, RTI and HR’ cell Chief Vivek Tankha and General Secretary Dipak Babaria.
Other relatively more familiar names who have quit are Anil Chaudhary, Rajesh Dharmani, Virendra Rathore and Ponam Prabhakar.
Recriminations have continued in the Congress ever since its abysmal showing in the Lok Sabha polls where it managed to win only 52 of 542-seats that went to polls.
A couple of days after Indian Youth Congress workers demanded that Gandhi continue to be the party chief, Tankha, party’s Rajya Sabha member, late Thursday evening took to Twitter to announce his decision to quit as his party’s chairman of the ‘law, RTI and HR’ cell.
“We all should submit our resignations from party positions and given Rahul ji a free hand to choose his team. I welcome (Madhya Pradesh chief minister) Kamal Nath’s statement to that effect,” Tankha, a Supreme Court lawyer, tweeted.
“The party cannot afford a stalemate for too long. Rahul ji please make drastic changes to revive the party as a fighting force. You have the commitment and determination. Just cobble a good, acceptable and influential nationwide team. I am with you in all situations,” Tankha said. Congress Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari said there was consensus in the party that Gandhi should continue to be the party chief.
There were indications on Friday that Gandhi might have had a rethink. Gandhi appointed Mohan Markam head of the party's Chhattisgarh unit, replacing state Bhupesh Baghel since he is now the chief minister of the state. The Congress statement announcing the appointment said "Congress president has appointed" instead of the "AICC" that was being used in party statements effecting organisational changes since Gandhi's decision to quit as party head.
At the first Congress Working Committee meeting after the poll results, Gandhi had announced his resignation but questioned senior leaders Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot and some others for not putting in their best effort to ensure the party’s success.
Party sources said they were demanding resignations of party office bearers, and not of sitting chief ministers lest Congress governments in states get destabilized. The Congress currently has governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Puducherry and runs a coalition government in Karnataka.