Less than an hour after the Rajya Sabha passed a bill downgrading Jammu and Kashmir to a union territory, on 5 August, the senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh suggested that his party launch an emphatic protest against the house’s decision. “What would have Mahatma Gandhi done … in a situation that this bill had come and passed? I think he would have taken a march from Lal Qila to Lal Chowk to show the solidarity with the Kashmiris,” Singh said, at a book launch in Delhi. When a journalist asked him whether the Congress leadership would have the courage to do so, Singh said, “That’s what I would want them to do.”
Singh was speaking at the launch of the journalist Dhirendra K Jha’s book, Ascetic Games: Sadhus, Akharas and the Making of the Hindu vote—the publishers Westland Publications co-hosted the event, alongside The Caravan. Singh expounded on a number of political issues—he admitted, for instance, that the Congress was facing a leadership crisis. He felt that it was the “wrong timing” for the party president Rahul Gandhi to have resigned. Singh further said that the Congress party had erred in the past in its dealings with religious fundamentalism, and at great cost to the Indian polity. Among these mistakes, he said, were the party’s response to the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judgment in the late 1980s and its failure to prevent the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Within forty-five days of the Congress’s crushing defeat in the general elections this year, Rahul Gandhi had posted a letter on Twitter, accepting responsibility for the loss and announcing his resignation as the party’s president. Gandhi’s resignation was preceded by weeks of media reports that shed light on the failings of the Congress’s campaign, bringing to light its shoddy planning and flawed outreach programs. Senior Congress leaders, news reports said, had attempted to convince Gandhi to stay on, but the party scion was adamant.
Singh, too, did not agree with Gandhi’s decision. “This was an opportunity when everyone felt that the only political party that can take on the BJP and the Sangh is the Congress party,” Singh said. “The way Mr Rahul Gandhi had been attacking the ideology of hate and violence … if he had continued this campaign, I think this was an opportunity for him.”
Since Gandhi announced his resignation, on 3 July, the Congress has not elected a new president. A central-working committee of the party is reportedly due to meet on 10 August, to elect its new chief.