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Rahul Gandhi Quits as Head of India's Congress Party


FILE - Rahul Gandhi, president of India's main opposition Congress party, leaves after casting his vote at a polling station in New Delhi, May 12, 2019.

Rahul Gandhi has quit as head of India's main opposition Congress Party, taking responsibility for its humiliating rout in recent general elections. His resignation leaves the party, which has been led by a member of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty for decades, in crisis.

The 49-year-old Gandhi said on Twitter, "Accountability is critical for the future growth of our party." He added, "It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility as President of the party."

Gandhi announced his intention to resign weeks ago, but senior leaders of the party have been pushing him to change his mind.

The Congress Party ruled India for more than 55 years since independence in 1947, but has steadily lost ground to the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party since Prime Minister Narendra Modi inflicted a crushing defeat on the former in 2014.

FILE - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks after releasing India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s election manifesto for the April/May general election, in New Delhi, April 8, 2019.
FILE - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks after releasing India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s election manifesto for the April/May general election, in New Delhi, April 8, 2019.

Gandhi took over the reins of the Congress Party from his mother, Sonia Gandhi, in 2017, vowing to rebuild a "Grand and Young Old Party." He was widely expected to give a tough fight to the BJP in the recent elections.

But the Congress was left in disarray after it won only 52 of the 543 elected seats in parliament — just a notch higher than the 44 seats it secured in 2014. Congress Party candidates returned empty-handed in half the Indian states and Gandhi lost his own seat in a family bastion, Amethi, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The rout in two general elections in a row crushed hopes that Gandhi could be a credible challenger to Modi, who has emerged as one of India's most powerful leaders in recent decades.

Gandhi has said, "Rebuilding the party requires hard decisions, and numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure of 2019."

In his resignation letter, Gandhi said that while he had no "hatred or anger" toward the BJP, "Every living cell in my body instinctively resists their idea of India," which he said was based on differences and hatred.

Rahul Gandhi was the fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family to head the Congress Party. The BJP has frequently accused the Congress Party of promoting a "dynasty." On the campaign trail, Prime Minister Modi had called Gandhi an entitled "prince," comparing him to Modi's humble origins. Modi is the son of a tea seller.

Crisis, opportunity

Gandhi's decision to step down poses a challenge for a party that has no second rung of leadership and has long relied on the Gandhi family to hold it together.

Political analysts have described the situation as both a crisis and an opportunity for the Congress Party.

"It is a blow because so far the party has been predicated completely to the Gandhis; they are the glue that holds it together," according to New Delhi-based commentator Ajoy Bose. But he says the search for new leaders, particularly in states, could help the party slowly rebuild.

"It will bring in new energy and restore more democracy in the party which did not hold an election to choose a leader," said another analyst, Neerja Chowdhury.

Gandhi is widely expected to continue working for the Congress Party, although he will not hold the top position.

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