The turmoil in the Congress party that resurfaced after the party’s poor performance in the Bihar elections and bypolls is showing no signs of abating. On Sunday, Ghulam Nabi Azad, one of the 23 senior leaders who wrote the unprecedented letter to Sonia Gandhi demanding sweeping changes in the party, said the Congress’s organisational “system has collapsed” and its position will not improve unless reforms are carried out.
Talking to The Indian Express, Azad, leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, said the situation of the Congress is “not good” but argued that “making it good is in our hands”. He admitted that “our leaders have lost connection with people on the ground.”
The only solution for the party’s revival, he said, is organisational election from booth-level upwards.
He said the pandemic has “derailed” attempts to reform the organisation but argued “as and when we have a clear window”, the leadership should push reforms to strengthen the party.
“The defeat in Bihar and the by-elections is a matter of great concern for the party. And for this, I don’t blame the national leadership. We will not improve our position in any state unless we have the block-level, district-level and PCC-level elections, which has been our demand from Day 1. By demanding this, we are strengthening the hands of the leadership and the party,” he said.
Azad’s comments come after his party colleague Kapil Sibal said that the Congress’s poor showing in the recent Bihar elections and bypolls underlined that people no longer saw the party as an “effective alternative” and that the leadership was not addressing the party’s problems.
Azad hit out at the “five-star culture” in the party during elections. “During elections, the general tendency these days… which is not just in Congress but in BJP also… but the BJP has an advantage that they have other grass root outfits which are so much entrenched in the villages and small cities and towns… so they can allow this luxury of coming back by helicopter to the capital city and stay the night. But since we do not have that kind of party structure at the grass-root level, block-level and district-level like the regional parties or the BJP… we should, instead of getting tempted to come back to the state capital by helicopter and stay in a hotel and wasting productive hours…. Congress leaders, whether they are general secretaries, secretaries, PCC presidents or other star campaigners…should stay at the district and taluka level.”
Calling the party’s situation “not good” and that “making it good is in our hands”, he said Congressmen have lost the connection on the ground “because we don’t have the elected bodies… (which) have to be compulsorily in touch with the people.”
Azad said those who are speaking out should not be treated as rebels.
“We are not rebels. We are reformists. Rebels want to remove a person who is in a position and get him replaced with himself. Reformists are those who are not bothered about leadership. He is one who wants to strengthen the system. We are for strengthening the system which needs reforms. And these reforms are embedded in our party constitution.”
Saying “nothing will change… by changing the leadership at the national level”, Azad said, “The perceptible change will take place only if we bring the system in order at the state-, district- and booth-level… This system was derailed after Rajiv Gandhi’s death. In between there were two other presidents also. After Rajiv Gandhi’s death, this whole system collapsed,” he said.
Asked whether the leadership is in any mood to listen, he said, “It is not true that the leadership is not listening. We had made five demands – a full-time president and election should be immediately held for that and an elected (Congress) Working Committee. Both have been agreed upon. Even Rahul Gandhi and Mrs Gandhi wanted it to be held in October only. But because of Covid, it was not possible… The real strengthening of the party will come when elections will be held for block, district and state committees… the leadership has not said that they will not do that.”
“We would have gone the whole hog and said do it tomorrow only…but I am not sure how long Covid is going to continue.”
When pointed out that the BJP top leadership has been carrying out party activities even in the midst of the pandemic, he said, “They have special aircraft. That luxury we don’t have.”
Asked about Congress president Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul’s Goa trip, he said, “Going to Goa is not forbidden. Goa is a part of India… If the leader is going for three-four days holiday, the world does not stop… If we have the elected system at every level in place… then it is not important how much time the top leadership spends in the states or in office or outside.”
Earlier in the day, former Union minister Salman Khurshid said there was no leadership crisis in the party and an all-round support for Sonia Gandhi and Rahul was “apparent to anyone who is not blind”. Claiming that there were enough forums in the Congress for airing views, Khurshid told PTI, “The leadership listens to me, I am given an opportunity, they (those criticising in the media) are given an opportunity, where does this thing come from… that the leadership is not listening?”
Asked about some leaders calling for a full-time president, Khurshid said they should come forward and talk about it inside the party. “See our leader and say you don’t look good without a label. The leader will take a call,” Khurshid said.
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