The Congress is going through a unique crisis in Kerala. The party just received a landslide victory in the general election in the state, where the ruling CPM-led alliance is smarting from its worst rout since the post-Emergency 1977 election and the BJP stands without any chance of making a breakthrough in the near future. Yet the Congress is in no mood to celebrate.
Even as encouraging results poured out from all but one of the 20 parliamentary constituencies in the state, Congress leaders did not have much reasons to celebrate. The party was not going anywhere in the rest of the country. Much bigger shock followed when Rahul Gandhi announced his decision to step down as the party chief.
The state leadership of the party was hoping that Gandhi was merely expressing his willingness to step down to claim a moral perch. They were shocked when the party president stuck to his guns and resigned. The party is faced with the difficult task of finding a replacement. In Karnataka, the fragile ruling alliance with the Janata Dal (S) is slowly unravelling.
This was the backdrop of uncertainty and confusion when the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee called for a meeting of its political affairs committee on Sunday. The meeting assessed the apprehensions amid the rank and file about the resignation of the party president. The leaders did not bother to discuss the merit of Gandhi's resignation but they decided to put up a brave front. The uncertainty in Delhi would not affect the morale of the party in Kerala, they declared.
Party honchos also organised a leadership summit in August to prepare the organisation for the upcoming local body election in Kerala. They also decided to invite Gandhi himself to inaugurate the summit.
Gandhi's decision to quit as the Congress president evoked mixed reactions. The party leadership in Kerala was looking up to Gandhi not only as the commander post a difficult election but also as a key people's representative from the state. They were hoping that Gandhi's position as the Wayanad MP would help him highlight the state's needs at the national level.
The state Congress leadership was not amused by the party president's resignation. They think that Gandhi had no reason to quit in the face of a devastating defeat and his resignation was not the solution the ailing party needed at the national level. They thought that Gandhi just left the party in the dark.
At the same time, no leader in Kerala wanted to mount pressure on Gandhi to withdraw his resignation. They knew that they had enough drama already. They decided to act maturely and go by the party's organisational process.
The party's state unit passed a resolution to nudge Gandhi to reconsider his decision. State Congress president Mullappally Ramachandran and opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala went to Delhi to appraise Gandhi of the sentiments in the state. When they returned, both leaders were convinced that there would not be a rethinking. After that, there was no public statements about Gandhi's resignation from any leaders in Kerala.
Even when Gandhi officially put out his resignation and created ripples all over the country, there was no drama in Kerala. State leaders said that the resignation letter was heart-warming. They expect Gandhi to be active in the affairs of the party even if he is no longer the president.
Perhaps the Congress president's surprise resignation was the shock therapy the party needed all over the country. At least some leaders in the party think so. After all Gandhi managed to keep the party in limelight for a month after the election with his resignation.
Even vociferous spokespersons of the Congress find it difficult to respond to the perpetual peeve that the party is unable to look beyond the Nehru-Gandhi family for leadership. Now the scion of the dynasty himself has asked the party to end the dependence.
Who's next? Well, that is a question that still remains unanswered. Leaders in Kerala are not very keen on the names being floated around. There are some people who want Priyanka Gandhi to step in but she is unlikely to contradict his brother's wish that the new leader should come from outside the family. They are proud of A K Antony but his possible ascent may make the party south-heavy, especially since Gandhi seeking a safe constituency in Wayanad on the face of imminent defeat in his family fiefdom of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
Will Gandhi decide to take it easy after the renunciation? Indications so far point to another trend. Gandhi and his office are in constant touch with leaders in Kerala to understand the problems faced by Wayanad. He has already raised the issue of farmers of Wayanad in the Lok Sabha.
Not for nothing is Gandhi described as an enigma. He may still pull off unexpected moves. Party leaders expect him to make his next move to energise the party.