But the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the apex decision-making body of the 128-year-old party, rejected the offer, which, many say, is a move to pre-empt criticism against the Gandhis.
“They both offered to resign but the party rejected it unanimously,” party general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi told reporters.
The CWC, which consists of senior party leaders, chose to bail out both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, who had been entrusted with leading the party’s campaign ahead of the April-May elections. The Congress won just 44 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha as its main rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won 282 seats, becoming the first non-Congress party to win a majority on its own in the history of independent India.
The Congress leadership, however, pledged to revamp the organization and promised that the party will “resolutely remain at the middle of the political spectrum, faithfully reflect the needs and aspirations of all sections of the people and make a determined effort to regain the confidence and support of the people”. The CWC has authorized Sonia Gandhi to “take whatever steps (are) necessary in order to revamp the party organization at all levels”.
The Congress president, who made a brief speech at the beginning of the two-and-a half-hour-long meeting of the CWC, urged the party to “introspect on the results in all seriousness and in depth”.
Gandhi asked the party to try and understand why its support base had been eroded so deeply, whether the party was in tune with the aspirations of the youth, and whether the benefits of economic growth had reached the people.
Gandhi said it was “vital to ask these questions and more at every level, especially at the grassroots where our workers are directly in touch with the people.”
Both Gandhis and the other leaders admitted that the Congress as an organization had failed to communicate the achievements of the party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
The unabated price rise and rampant corruption in the government appeared to have initiated the decline of the Congress prospects. Political observers pointed out that the complacency among its leaders and a growing disconnect with the electorate also contributed to the fall.
The atmosphere in the Congress office and the expression on the faces of senior leaders showed the gloom that had spread in the Congress. About a dozen Youth Congress activists demonstrated in front of the party headquarters chanting, “Rahul ji, continue to struggle, we are with you.”