India elections: What next for Rahul Gandhi and his Congress?

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Rahul Gandhi addresses a news conference in New Delhi after his party’s stunning defeat [Reuters] A second straight landslide election defeat for opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has raised serious questions about his leadership and cast a damaging shadow over one of the world’s most prominent political dynasties.

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Rahul, who even lost the family constituency seat of Amethi in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, will have to face the music at a meeting of party leaders in coming days.

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Rahul lost Amethi, a seat he represented since 2004 and which was a Congress stronghold since the 1960s, to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Smriti Irani – the most stunning upset in the Indian election, which saw Prime Minister  Narendra Modi  storm back to power.

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The election results  made grim reading for Congress barons who have relied for generations on the talismanic Nehru-Gandhi name – which rivals the Kennedy clan in the United States and the Bhuttos in Pakistan – to provide electoral success

190521080547337 The Congress won 52 seats in India‘s lower house of parliament, barely improving the historic low of 44 it won in Modi‘s last landslide in 2014. The party failed to get a single seat in 13 of the country’s 29 states

When asked about responsibility for the loss, Rahul Gandhi told a press conference late on Thursday: “This is between my party and me. Between me and the Congress Working Committee.”

Party spokesmen have insisted the 48-year-old son, grandson and great-grandson of Indian prime ministers would not resign and that strategy was to blame for the defeat

“We have to go back to the drawing board,” Congress spokesman Salman Soz told AFP news agency

I accept the verdict of the people of India 🇮🇳

Congratulations to the winners, Mr Modi & the NDA

Thank you to the people of Wayanad for electing me as your MP.

Thank you also to the people of Amethi.

Thank you Congress workers & leaders for your hard work in this campaign

Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 23, 2019 Congress in denial? But experts say the party and its ruling family is in denial

“The Congress leadership has clearly failed. It is a discredited and bankrupt leadership,” Kanchan Gupta, a politics expert at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think-tank, told AFP

Congress has been a virtual one-family party for the last century. India has been mesmerised by the twists and turns of its successes and frequent tragedies

Pro-independence leader Motilal Nehru served as party president twice between 1919 and 1929

His son Jawaharlal Nehru took over and became India‘s first prime minister after independence, ruling until his death in 1964. His daughter Indira Gandhi and then her son Rajiv GandhiRahul‘s father – followed as premiers. Both were assassinated in office

190523122306435 Rajiv‘s widow Sonia Gandhi won two elections as party leader but did not become prime minister, fearing her Italian origins would fuel a backlash

Party fortunes had dwindled since she started to hand the reins to Rahul ahead of the 2014 vote and as Modi turned the BJP into a formidable vote machine, seizing on corruption scandals that hit Congress

Rahul failed this time to connect with voters in the way that Modi did, critics said. The Nehru-Gandhi name that was once Congress‘s biggest asset is now a liability

The Congress “campaign was a disaster and now their very existence is under question. The more it staggers, the more it helps the BJP,” Hartosh Singh Bal, political editor of Caravan magazine, told AFP

Modi made hay mocking Rahul‘s lineage, calling him “shehzada” (prince), which contrasted sharply with his humble origins as a tea seller. Modi also attacked Rahul‘s father, Rajiv, describing him as India‘s most corrupt premier

The use of Rahul‘s sister Priyanka on the campaign trail did not galvanise Congress votes as expected

Rahul‘s party may have mobilised crowds for him but he simply couldn’t connect,” said Gupta, adding that the Congress‘s age-old policy of offering welfare handouts to the poor no longer resonates with an “aspirational India

What next? “It is pretty much over to the Congress to decide if it wants to shield Rahul Gandhi, like they have done other times,” said Nistula Hebbar, political editor of The Hindu newspaper

190520083409952 “If they do, the going gets much tougher for the party to revive from its present situation,” she told AFP

Several big-hitting Indian politicians have defected from Congress over the years because of the Gandhis’ refusal to give up power

Sharad Pawar, who formed the Nationalist Congress Party, and Trinamool Congress Party leader Mamata Banerjee, quit long before Rahul took charge

Commentators say there is young talent in the party that should be promoted but they cannot see the Gandhis giving up power

“It will be very tough for the Gandhis to rebuild from here on,” said Hemant Kumar Malviya, associate professor of political science at the Banaras Hindu University

But I don’t think it’s the end of the road for them,” he added

SOURCE: AFP news agency