In 1967, after a humiliating defeat in the six-day war with Israel, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser went on television and announced his resignation. Millions of people took to the streets of Cairo to demand that he stay. He did.
In 2022, after humiliating defeats in five states, the “we three” of Congress offered to resign, and the congressional working committee refused to accept the resignations. The Gandhi triumvirate remained.
The difference is that one resigned and the other offered to resign. One had the support of millions, the other a small cabal of parasites. Long live difference.
Frankly, what does it mean to “offer to resign”? Isn’t that just a simple sign of acceptance of a minor failure? Just a gratuitous gesture to appease people? A mere semblance of taking responsibility?
When people really feel responsible, they quit. They are not offering to resign. They just got up and quit. Like Virat Kohli, who resigned while he was in front. Or like David Cameron, who lost the Brexit vote and resigned as Prime Minister on the moral grounds that he was to stay in the EU.
In the private sector, people quit because they don’t deliver; they don’t get into this little dance of “I’m going to resign, I want to resign, here’s my resignation offer”. If you failed, get up and walk the board.
And failed the trio have. It wasn’t just a minor loss in the final over. It was a gargantuan failure. A failure not only of the campaign, a failure not only of candidate selection, but a total and utter failure to manage the oldest party in the country so that it can bounce back from the defeats of 2014, 2017 and 2019 .
P. Chidambaram, who has become the public voice of the Congress party in these “resigned” times, summed it up perfectly when he said from Goa in August 2021 that there were no Congress bloc committees and that it had to start from scratch and managed to muster 30 of the 40 in time for this election.
Did Congress only realize this in August 2021? What were they doing, please, since 2017? By forming only 30 bloc committees, they conceded 10 seats (25% of Goa’s total seats) without a ground force.
Contrast that with what the BJP did in December 2018, after suffering defeats in three states it held; Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah put on their party hats and began campaigning in those same states. They did not hang around waiting for the Electoral Commission to call the general elections. They just focused on winning back people’s support. They did this non-stop until May 2019 when they came back to power destroying Congress, especially in those three states where there were 61 MPs for the BJP and three (yes, THREE) for the Congress.
Wonder what Congress did starting in December 2018? The answer is, not much – until March 2019. Rahul Gandhi decided to go on a well-deserved vacation. Units in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan remained deeply divided between factions and after hanging the “gaddi”, the leaders seemed more inclined to enjoy the fruits of power than to focus on the battle ahead. In fact, the only battles they really had were internal.
If you thought that after the humiliation of 2019 they would push to win the next rounds, you are wrong. They failed in Haryana, they did poorly in Maharashtra, they were blown away in Assam. The crowning defeat came not from the BJP but from the Kerala Left Front, which smashed the hoodoo of the non-reelected ruling party and won by a wide margin in the state where Rahul Gandhi is an MP. Congress fought 93 seats and won only 21.
Between all these electoral losses, Congress allowed Amit Shah to overthrow two of Congress’ most prized assets, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.
Back in 2022.
Sonia Gandhi has admitted that she allowed Captain Amarinder Singh to stay too long as chief minister of Punjab. But none of the three admitted to the disaster which has been Charanjit Singh Chani as chief minister and Navjot Sidhu as chairman of the Punjab unit. The endless wrangling has ensured that no one wants to put Congress back in the saddle.
The biggest bunch of thorns must be reserved for Priyanka Gandhi. After promising to rebuild the Uttar Pradesh Congress, where P Chidambaram said the party had withered away, she decided that the party, without any organization on the ground, would contest 399 seats. Even the stalwart Chidambaram remarked that this went against what the party had intended, and although he did not say so, it was a monumental mistake. With 2 seats and 2.5% of the vote, Congress lost its deposit in the 387 seats it was running for. Priyanka Gandhi achieved little except a huge waste of time and resources.
It wasn’t just the money – if Priyanka Gandhi had campaigned in Goa, Punjab, Manipur and Uttarakhand instead, she might have helped a few other members of Congress win. At least they may have looked like a force for the future.
Instead, you now have a situation where Congress seems dead in the water in Goa and Manipur, and has left the door open for the AAP in Uttarakhand. Punjab looks more complicated, but it probably isn’t. The Akali Dal, being a panthic party, will recover and continue to play an important role in it, even if it may take five years to form. Congress, meanwhile, without leadership, is unlikely to be anyone’s choice. More importantly, the defeat of Punjab has already opened the door for the AAP in Himachal Pradesh where the BJP, by all accounts, is on a weak wicket.
Where is Congress today? As Prashant Kishor pointed out, he gets 20% of the national vote. Theoretically, it could come back and become a strength again. But a close look at large states shows where the problem lies:
In states with 264 Lok Sabha seats, Congress is irrelevant. Even in states where he is the main opposition, do they have a realistic hope of winning more than single-digit seats?
The tragedy of Congress under Sonia Gandhi has been that the offshoots of Congress are more relevant than the mothership. In West Bengal, Telangana and Andhra, the Trinamool, Telangana Rashtra Samiti and YSR congresses are in power. Even in Maharashtra, the NCP seems to have outstripped the Congress.
As if to make sure Congress isn’t going anywhere soon, a whole generation of young Congressmen have been allowed to leave the party. Thus, Congress has little or no regional and local leadership in most states.
In the aftermath of recent state election results, Modi traveled to Gujarat for the first of many rallies in his home state, which will vote in November. What was the first family of Congress doing? Offer to resign.
As Oliver Cromwell told The Rump of the English Parliament in 1653, “You have sat here too long for all the good you have done. Go, … and be done with you. In the name of God, go . “
(Ishwari Bajpai is a senior adviser at NDTV.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.