On the face of it, you cannot call this the worst situation the Congress has ever faced in post-Independence India. It has more seats in Parliament than in 2014, managed to stave off the Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka last year despite winning fewer seats and even won back three North Indian states from the saffron party.
Yet this certainly feels like an extremely precarious moment for the party. After 2014, there was still the hope that Rahul Gandhi’s ascendance as party president might lead to a resurgence. The victories in assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh last year only seemed to reaffirm this belief.
But the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections should end any idea that the Nehru-Gandhi scion is the Congress’ answer to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The results suggest that the Congress can compete at the state-level, but that Indian voters do not believe Gandhi can be trusted with the reins of power – at least not when he is up against Modi.
Does the Congress understand this?
Rahul Gandhi appeared to have read the signal in the days immediately after the loss, reportedly saying at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee that he wanted to resign as head of the party. The organisation is said to have unanimously rejected this demand, though reports at the time said that Gandhi was adamant about stepping down and even asked why the president had to be from the Nehru-Gandhi family.