In the first open criticism from within the Congress after the party’s crushing electoral defeat, former union minister Milind Deora said on Wednesday that Rahul Gandhi’s advisers did not have their “ears to the ground” and those with “no electoral experience” were “calling the shots”, but added that “the people who take the advice also have to bear responsibility”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Deora, who lost from Mumbai South, said while “many factors” led to the party’s defeat and Rahul’s leadership alone could not be blamed, “it was not about one person’s image but the people surrounding that person also”.
“The question is whether the set of advisers had their ears to the ground… There were strong murmurs in the party that people who are calling the shots are people with no electoral experience… no stature, standing, respect and credibility in the party. They were in charge of important departments and held key positions. This whole group of people did not listen to what party cadres and MPs were saying. They did not allow diverse opinion to come through… and shut out a lot of people. Many of us knew the party has become unresponsive. Had the system been more open and accomodative and had the diverse opinions been openly heard, corrective measures could have been taken,” he said.
“A lot of us felt our voices were never heard. We felt our voices don’t matter. This has to change. The MPs and ministers should not feel we are being not heard,” he added.
“It is not the advisors alone. The people who take the advice also have to bear responsibility. Those who gave advice and those who received the advice as also those who feel they can give better advice — all have to bear responsibility,” said Deora, while refraining from taking any names.
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The only way forward, he said, was for the party to “open up” and “promote avenues for dissent and debate internally”. The party should introduce free and frank discussions and accountability, he said.
Stating that a “series of things have been going wrong for a long time”, Deora said, “I don’t think blaming the campaign alone is the right way to look at it. We went wrong in many areas. From the point of view of the party, government, communication, coordination in the party, coordination between the party and government — in all of these areas we were going wrong drastically… There were things unfolding for a long period of three years.”
He said both the party and the government did not “respond adequately”. “When it responded, it came out as arrogant and insensitive. And it all culminated in the campaign, which from the start was a very difficult campaign. It was our undoing frankly. It was a self-inflicted wound,” he said.
“I do believe the buck stops with the party. It is easy to say that the government did not do something. But the party has the power to make changes in the government. The party was sitting and watching what was happening and unfolding. The party should have stepped in long time back,” he said.
Asked who was to blame, he said, “there are many people from top to bottom… there was lack of coordination and the response was slow… there was a very unresponsive attitude. That’s why I said the buck stops with the party.”
Deora said even the message that came out of the CWC meeting on Monday could have been articulated better. “The whole CWC meeting could have been handled much better. The message going out to those who supported the party, voted for the party and worked for the party could have been articulated much better. I don’t think the right message is coming out. These are the things in the party which have to be changed radically,” he said.
Now that the Congress is in the opposition, he said the party has to decide whether it wants to become an NGO or a political organisation. “We are a political party. We have to be an aggressive opposition now. It needs certain skill sets, leaders, communication skills, strategists, and all these things require discussion, debate and deliberation. We have to have the right people at the right place. The kind of people who are calling the shots now… People who are policy experts, technocrats, researchers should be connected with the dotted line to the organisation. They should not be a part of the core organisational chart of the party as has been happening for the last few years,” he said.