Nearly two-and-a-half months after a ‘pro-reformer’ section within the Congress – the so-called G-23 – took up the party leadership issue, senior leader Kapil Sibal on Sunday (November 15) spoke up again, saying the people no longer saw the party as an ‘effective alternative.’
His outburst came following the party’s poor showing in the recent Bihar Assembly polls and by-elections. He said the leadership was not addressing the problems facing the party.
In August, a letter written by the G-23 demanding a ’24×7 visible and active leader plus elections to the top party setups’ prefaced a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, the highest decision-making body of the party.
The party had then made a few changes at the top of the party’s organizational set-up, saying Sonia Gandhi would continue to lead the party and that a session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) would be called within six months where future course of action will be decided.
Sonia Gandhi completed one year as the party’s interim chief on August 10. She was a full-fledged party president for over 19 years from May 1998 to December 2017 when Rahul Gandhi took over from her and resigned in May 2019 owning moral responsibility for the party’s rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Sibal told The Indian Express: “Some of us (from the G-23 group) put our pen to paper and said what should be done in the Congress on the road ahead. Instead of listening to us, they turned their back on us. The results are for all to see… People of the country, not just in Bihar but wherever by-elections were held, obviously don’t consider the Congress to be an effective alternative.”
Sibal is among the 23 “dissenters,” including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Mukul Wasnik.
The time for “introspection” was over, Sibal said. “A colleague of mine who is a part of the CWC said the other day that ‘I hope the Congress introspects’. If for six years the Congress has not introspected, what hope do we have for introspection now?”
Sibal said organizationally, “we know what is wrong”.
“We have all the answers. The Congress itself knows all the answers. But they are not willing to recognize those answers… then the graph will continue to decline… The Congress must be brave and willing to recognize them.”
Sibal said the reluctance to address issues was because the CWC was “a nominated body”. “Democratic processes must be adopted and embraced, even in the constitution of the CWC, which is reflected in the provisions of the Congress constitution. You don’t expect nominated members to start questioning,” he said.
He pointed out that the Congress had lost “all the (eight) by-elections in Gujarat”, with three of its candidates losing their deposits, while “in some of the (seven) constituencies in Uttar Pradesh Congress candidates notched up less than 2% of the votes cast”. Even in Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress held power till recently, the party had underperformed in the bypolls for 28 seats, he said.
Asked if the Congress leadership was taking it as business as usual, Sibal said, “I don’t know. I am only talking about myself. I have not heard the leadership tell me anything… I only hear voices which surround the leadership… We are yet to hear from the Congress party their views on our recent performance in Bihar and the by-elections. Maybe they think all is well and that it should be business as usual.”
Referring to the August letter, he said: “Since there has been no dialogue and there seems to be no effort for dialogue by the leadership and since there is no forum to express my views, I am constrained to express them publicly. I am a Congressman and will remain a Congressman and hope and pray that Congress provides the alternative to a power structure which has subverted all the values that the nation stands for.”
Every organisation, Sibal said, needs a conversation, “with experienced minds, experienced hands, with people who understand the political realities of India, people who know what and how to articulate in the media, people who know how to get people to listen to them”.
He also called for alliances. “We cannot anymore expect people to come to us. We are not the kind of force we used to be.”
The dissenters’ August letter had raised an 11-point action plan for the 134-year-old party, warning it of erosion in its support base with the desertion of leaders across states.
“Even after 14 months of the 2019 electoral verdict, the Congress has not undertaken any honest introspection to analyze the reasons for its continued decline,” said the letter.