New Delhi: Taking total responsibility for the Lok Sabha poll debacle, Rahul Gandhi on Saturday offered to resign as Congress president, which the Congress Working Committee (CWC) unanimously rejected and authorised him to overhaul and restructure the party at all levels.
The crucial meeting of Congress's highest decision-making body deliberated for almost four hours upon reasons behind the party's defeat with various leaders urging Rahul Gandhi to continue to provide leadership.
Sources said Gandhi put forth his resignation before the committee, asking it to elect a new president.
The sources added the Congress chief did not give any speech and asked the CWC to chose a new leader from outside his family. Top leaders asked him not to resign, with some even getting emotional while convincing him to continue.
Congress stalwarts including party general secretaries, chief ministers and former ministers, unanimously rejected his offer to resign and reposed faith in his leadership.
The CWC asked him to continue as party chief and carry out an overall of the party at all levels and rejuvenate it and passed a resolution in this regard.
"Congress president Rahul Gandhi in his address to the CWC offered his resignation as the party president. The CWC unanimously and with one voice rejected the same and requested the Congress president for his leadership and guidance in these challenging times," said the resolution passed by CWC.
The CWC "unanimously" called upon the Rahul Gandhi to lead the party in its ideological battle and to champion the cause of youth, farmers, SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities, poor and deprived sections.
The resolution accepted with humility the mandate of the people and expressed gratitude to 12.13 crore voters who stood behind the party.
"The Congress party is committed to don the role of a constructive opposition, raising people's issues and holding the government accountable to people of India," the resolution said.
The CWC commended the tireless efforts of Congress chief, leaders, workers and candidates, who fought a vigorous battle in challenging circumstances and thanked allies who joined hands to fight this ideological battle.
The CWC resolution said it fully recognises challenges, failures and shortcomings, resulting in this mandate, and recommended a thorough introspection. "The CWC requested the Congress chief for a complete overhaul and a detailed restructuring at every level of the party. A plan to this effect shall come into force at the earliest."
"The Congress party has lost the election but our indomitable courage, our fighting spirit and commitment to our ideology remains stronger than ever. We shall continue its fight against forces that thrive on hatred and division," it further read.
Earlier, around 40 top Congress leaders from across the country listed the reasons for the party's defeat and suggested ways to revive the party again.
Sources said senior party leader P Chidambaram also turned a little "emotional" while asking Rahul Gandhi to continue and said some supporters, especially from South which voted for Congress, may take some "extreme step" in case he resigned.
Sonia Gandhi did not speak at the meeting, while former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra spoke, listing various reasons and asked the Congress leaders to continue its fight against the BJP.
While all chief ministers of Congress-ruled states - Ashok Gehlot, Amarinder Singh, Bhupesh Baghel and V Narayanasamy - were present at the meeting and also spoke. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath was not present and sources pointed out at speculation that his government was "under threat" and he was trying to put his "house in order".
Addressing a press conference, Congress leader A K Antony did not agree that the party suffered a "humiliating defeat" saying "I do not agree".
"We were not able to raise up to the expectations of the people. The party will go into the reasons for defeat in detail and come out with its considered opinion," he said.
Senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said a detailed discussion and introspection on reasons for defeat will be done and credited Gandhi for providing leadership in fighting the battle of ideology.
"Victory or defeat is different and providing leadership is different and Rahul Gandhi gave that leadership to the party. It is a defeat of numbers and not of ideology... I have never seen such a unanimity across all age groups in the CWC in saying that Gandhi led from the front," Azad told reporters.
Asked about talk of Article 370 being abrogated by the BJP, he said, "This is not a new thing. It is on the agenda of BJP for long and they say it in every election."
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said "the partisan manner in which this election was conducted by the Election Commission was also discussed."
The CWC also noted with concern the challenges of surging oil prices, crisis in banking sector, downturn of economy, looming job and agrarian crisis and drought.
The committee also talked about institutional integrity, the hallmark of constitutional democracy, that "remains under a cloud", as also issue of social strife and tensions that affect the populace.
"CWC hopes that the government will address these issues as its top priority."
The meeting comes after Congress could win just 52 Lok Sabha seats and drew a nought in 18 states and Union Territories.