Days after the Congress managed to win just 19 seats, the lowest tally among the top four parties in the Bihar assembly polls, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad on Sunday said elections were not won by adopting a “five-star culture and party office-bearers should be elected”.
Azad, one of the 23 leaders who signed a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Augustdemanding major changes in the party’s functioning, also said the “general impression (is) that there is no president of the party.”
“Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi said that party elections should be held in October. But we said that the election should be held after six months due to Covid-19,” he added.
The party contested the Bihar elections, which were won by a coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (United), or JD (U), as part of an alliance led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal and comprising the Left parties. Of the 70 seats it contested, it managed to win just 19.
Azad claimed he didn’t blame Sonia or Rahul Gandh for the setback. But his criticism of the selection process of office bearers, according to some party insiders, is a veiled protest against the current system.
Senior leader and former foreign minister Salman Khurshid hit back at Azad, rejected any perception of a leadership crisis in the Congress and said all-round support for Sonia and Rahul Gandhi is “apparent to anyone who is not blind”.
Khurshid said public statements by Congress leaders critical of it hurt the party, in an oblique reference to recent statements by Kapil Sibal and others.
Asked about comments by Sibal and another senior leader, P Chidambaram, on the Congress’s poor showing in the Bihar election and recent by-polls, he said he cannot disagree with what they have said, but asked why anyone has to go out and tell the media and the world that “we need to do this”.
“Analysis is done all the time, there is no quarrel about analysis. It will be done. The leadership, of which all these people are a part, will appropriately look at what may have gone wrong, how we could have improved, and that will happen in the normal course, we needn’t talk about it in the public,” said Khurshid, a permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee (CWC), he party’s highest decision-making body.
In an exclusive interview with ANI, Azad said: “Office bearers should understand their responsibility. Till the time office bearers are appointed, they won’t go to the grassroots. But if all office bearers are elected, then they will understand their responsibility. Right now, anyone gets any post in the party. Our people have lost the connection with the grassroots.”
He also said: “Polls aren’t won by five-star culture. Problem with leaders today is if they get a party ticket, they first book a five-star hotel. They won’t go if there’s a rough road. Till the time 5-star culture is given up, one can’t win elections.”
Azad on Sunday also supported Chidambaram and Sibal’s opinion about the need for “retrospection” in the party. He said it was “not wrong but it also does not mean changing the top leadership”. He maintained that the “medicine for the party” was to conduct organizational elections at different levels.
“Retrospection means there should be a discussion on why we lost in Bihar, why we won few seats in Madhya Pradesh. And after a discussion on these, how to apply the conclusion we get from the discussion on these issues– this is what we have to do,” Azad said.
Sibal, critical of the current state of functioning in the Congress, said people in Bihar did not consider Congress to be an effective alternative, adding that the time for “introspection” was over. Chidambaram too, expressed concern over the poll results, and asked for a comprehensive review on why the RJD-Congress-Left alliance lost despite being so close to victory.
“We all are worried about losses, especially about Bihar and by-poll results. I don’t blame the leadership of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. Office-bearers should understand that their responsibility begins with their appointment. They should love the party. I quote a couplet: ‘Ye ishq nahi aasaan, bas itna samajh lije. Ik aag ka darya hai aur doob ke jaana hai,’”, Azad said.
“Love should be for one’s party, profession and country,” Azad added.