NEW DELHI (AFP) – Rahul Gandhi quit Wednesday as head of India’s main opposition Congress party, taking the blame for a second-straight election humiliation by right-wing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“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 statement on his official Twitter account.
The 49-year-old, who was seeking to become the fourth member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to become prime minister, had been Congress president since December 2017.
Congress has dominated Indian politics since independence in 1948, but it has seen a spectacular collapse in support in the past decade.
Gandhi said immediately after his party’s defeat in the April-May national elections that he would not continue as leader, but party barons had hoped to change his mind and Wednesday’s official announcement still came as a surprise.
Congress won only 52 of the 543 seats in the lower house of parliament in the election. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took 303 seats, increasing its majority as it won a second consecutive five-year term.
“Rebuilding the party requires hard decisions and numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure of 2019,” Gandhi said.
“It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility,” he added.
Gandhi accused the BJP, however, of seeking to “destroy the fabric of our nation” and vowed to “protect” the country until his “last breath”.
“I have no hatred or anger towards the BJP but every living cell in my body instinctively resists their idea of India,” he said.
Critics accuse the BJP of stoking religious tensions and trying to undermine the country’s secular credentials.
Around 80 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population is Hindu, but it is also home to large numbers of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.
The great-grandson, grandson and son of three past premiers of the world’s biggest democracy, Gandhi had set out to rejuvenate the party after it lost to BJP in the 2014 election.
But he struggled to shed his image as a privileged, dynastic scion.