CWC a farcical exercise, Cong shields dynasty

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Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul on Monday offered to step down as leaders of India's Congress party after it suffered its worst ever election defeat, but in a bid to snuff out dissent against the country’s leading political dynasty, party bosses declined.

The Congress, which has ruled India for most of its 67 years of independence including the last decade, is reeling from a humiliating reverse to bitter rival Narendra Modi and his BJP.

But rather than single out the Gandhis, who led a lacklustre campaign in the face of Modi's barnstorming performance, Congress leaders facing at least five years in opposition rallied around the family.

“Sonia and Rahul offered to resign but the CWC rejected it unanimously,” said Amrinder Singh, MP from Amritsar, referring to the elite Congress working committee which met at party headquarters.

Congress leaders adopted a resolution authorising Sonia to take steps to revamp the party.

Television channels showed grim-faced party leaders led by Sonia and next to her was Rahul, who has been singled out as failing to check Modi's meteoric rise to power.

Rahul Gandhi admitted at the meeting he failed to meet expectations, party spoke­sman Janardan Dwi­vedi told reporters at a briefing.

A source in the Congress said that Sonia offered her resignation as soon as the meeting began. "But the CWC said that we need you very much. We need a strong opposition to take on the BJP, we need a strong party to keep a check on the government," said the source, who attended the meeting but declined to be named.

The reaction suggests that Congress is not about to break its historic bond with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has towered over Indian politics for the best part of a century.

Over the years, party members who have raised the spectre of revolt against the Gandhis have been hounded out.

Outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh also spoke up at the meeting, saying resignations of the two leaders was not a solution to the crisis facing the Congress, arguably its most serious in decades.

The Congress rout has deepened doubts about the leadership qualities of Rahul, who failed to connect with voters, particularly the young.

Rahul also appeared cut off from the party rank-and-file, choosing to operate through a clique of mostly unelected advisers who are now under pressure following election defeat.

Ahead of the CWC meeting, Congress leaders sought to shift the blame on to Rahul’s advisers. "It was a complete failure of our communication strategy, our media strategy," said former Union minister Ashwani Kumar.

While party bosses were closing ranks behind Rahul, some Congress members lower down the chain of command revived calls for a greater role for his sister Priyanka, seen as a more natural politician.

Priyanka, a year younger than her brother, campaigned in the family’s home districts, mounting an aggressive challenge to Modi’s high-decibel show that took the country by storm. But the mother-of-two, who bears a resemblance to grandmother Indira Gandhi, has confined herself to family bastions in each election.

The party says it is up to her to decide on what political role, if any, she wants.

That hands-off approach is what many independent observers believe has been the party’s undoing. "The family is the Congress’s life source, its oxygen. But just by being present at the top, the family prevents the emergence of any young and dynamic leadership,” The Hindu, newspaper commented in an editorial.

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