India opposition party leader Rahul Gandhi resigns

FILE- In this May 25, 2019, file photo, Congress party President Rahul Gandhi attends a Congress Working Committee meeting in New Delhi, India. Gandhi in a letter he tweeted on Wednesday, July 3 said that "it is an honour for me to serve the Congress party," hours after declaring that he was no longer the party president. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri, file)

Rahul Gandhi has resigned as president of India's opposition Congress party, long linked to his politically powerful family, to take responsibility for its crushing defeat in recent elections

NEW DELHI — Rahul Gandhi resigned Wednesday as president of India's opposition Congress party, long linked to his politically powerful family, to take responsibility for its crushing defeat in recent elections.

Gandhi announced his resignation on Twitter, saying he was stepping down because accountability is "critical for the future growth of our party." He said rebuilding the party requires hard decisions and "numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure."

"It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility as president of the party," Gandhi said in his resignation letter.

It was unclear whether the left-of-center secular party would accept his resignation.

Gandhi's family, starting with his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, has produced three prime ministers. Two of them — his grandmother Indira Gandhi and father, Rajiv Gandhi — were assassinated in office.

Rahul Gandhi lost his own seat, long a Congress party bastion, in the recent elections, marking the end of an era for modern India's most powerful political dynasty. However, he won a seat from another constituency.

He had been talking of quitting since the results of the elections were announced in May, but party officials urged him to stay on.

On Tuesday, a Congress activist reportedly tried to hang himself from a tree outside the party office in New Delhi but was saved by party colleagues. Dozens of other party supporters joined a strike to pressure Gandhi not to resign.

In the elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won 303 out of 542 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, well beyond the simple majority needed to form a government. The Congress party won 52 seats and the All India Trinamool Congress led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee won 22.

Gandhi said in his resignation letter that the BJP used state organizations to help it win the election.

"We didn't fight a political party in the 2019 election. Rather, we fought the entire machinery of the Indian state, every institution of which was marshalled against the opposition," Gandhi said. "It is now crystal clear that our once cherished institutional neutrality no longer exists in India."

He said the BJP is "systematically crushing the voice of the Indian people" and that it is his party's duty "to defend these voices."

"Our democracy has been fundamentally weakened. There is a real danger that from now on, elections will go from being a determinant of India's future to a mere ritual," he said. "This capture of power will result in unimaginable levels of violence and pain for India."

After inheriting his power, Rahul Gandhi long distanced himself from political life, even after becoming a lawmaker. In Parliament he was largely a backbencher, leaving the party's reins to his mother, Sonia Gandhi. In December 2017 he took over the party's leadership from her after she suffered health problems.

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