Top Stories
Top Stories
Asia Politics

Modi's main political rival formally quit. The move was 'inevitable'

Key Points
  • Rahul Gandhi, the leader of India's main opposition Congress party, is formally stepping down — months after a resounding defeat in the 2019 parliamentary elections.
  • As the party's president, Gandhi took responsibility for Congress' defeat at the polls.
  • Gandhi announced his intention to resign in May ,but senior party leaders had refused to accept the notice.
VIDEO2:1202:12
It's 'inevitable' that India's opposition leader quit: Jain University

Rahul Gandhi, the leader of India's main opposition Congress party, is formally stepping down — just months after a resounding defeat in the 2019 parliamentary elections.

His resignation was imminent, said one political scientist.

"I think it was inevitable that Rahul Gandhi takes ... the responsibility because there has been a series of national setbacks that the party has received," said Sandeep Shastri, pro vice chancellor at Jain University in Bengaluru, India.

The move takes away any criticism within the party of Gandhi's role in the election defeat, Shastri told CNBC's "Street Signs " on Thursday. It also leaves Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party without its most important focus of attack on the Congress party — that it is dynastic and has the wrong type of leadership.

Congress won only 52 seats in the parliamentary elections that concluded in May. For his part, Gandhi lost his seat in a constituency that reportedly had only two non-Congress leaders since 1967.

The BJP, meanwhile, had won 303 seats — well above the 272 seat-count required for a party, or its coalition, before it can form a government.

That was the second consecutive time that Congress suffered a humiliating defeat at the polls, after the party won only 44 out 464 contested seats in the 2014 parliamentary elections.

Opportunity for change

Gandhi is the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has controlled the party for much of its 133-year history.

His great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Indian prime minister after India gained independence in 1947. His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, and his father, Rajiv, were both former prime ministers, while his mother, Sonia, is an influential figure within the party.

Rahul Gandhi, president of the Congress Party, speaks during an event marking the release of the Congress manifesto at the party's headquarters in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.
T. Narayan | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"Also, within the Congress, he has now created opportunity for change to happen," Shastri said, adding that it is unlikely anyone from the Gandhi family would be considered for the top job at this stage.

Still, Gandhi's influence — as well as that of his sister's, Priyanka — will remain within the Congress party, according to Shastri.

As the party's president, Gandhi took responsibility for Congress' defeat at the polls.

"Accountability is critical for the future growth of our party. It is for this reason that I have resigned as Congress President," he said in a public letter posted Wednesday.

Gandhi said that in order to rebuild the party, "hard decisions" need to be taken and that "numerous people" have to be made accountable for its recent setback. In the letter, he also urged party colleagues to begin the search for a successor.

Search for a successor

Gandhi announced his intention to resign in May but senior party leaders refused to accept the notice. Some senior leaders within Congress expressed disappointment following Gandhi's formal resignation on Wednesday.

It wasn't immediately clear who would take the top job in India's main opposition party as it looks to rebuild itself.

Local media speculated that several names may be considered for the presidency. They include:

  • Sushilkumar Shinde, a former home affairs minister
  • Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress leader in the lower house before the 2019 polls
  • Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of the state of Punjab

Shastri said the ideal candidate would be someone whom the Gandhi family would have a "total trust and confidence in" as well as someone who is able to win support from the various faction leaders within the Congress.

Reuters reported some party officials have not yet given up hope that Gandhi will reconsider the resignation.