Bihar debacle reignites calls for introspection in Congress
Questions are being asked of the Congress following its dismal show in the Bihar assembly elections with senior leader Kapil Sibal asking the leadership if it is “business as usual” and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot responding to him., claiming the remark has “hurt the sentiments” of party workers and reminding him that the party had been through similar crises several times in the past.
The Congress party’s performance is seen in some quarters as being responsible for the failure of the Mahagathbandhan (MGB) or grand alliance to oust the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the just-concluded assembly elections in Bihar.
It has also prompted renewed calls within the party for introspection and course correction.
Sibal, a former union minister and one of the 23 signatories to a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi in August this year seeking internal elections and an organisational overhaul, questioned the leadership in the wake of the Bihar debacle.
“We are yet to hear on recent polls... Maybe Congress leadership thinks it should be business as usual,” he tweeted.
Sibal further said he was “compelled to speak publicly” as there is “no forum in the party to discuss party issues” and insisted that the Congress needs efficient and senior leaders to manage elections.
Indeed, after the August letter, the party sort of rallied behind the existing leadership, and none of the sought-for changes have materialised.
Gehlot countered Sibal with a series of tweets and defended the leadership, saying there are various reasons for electoral setbacks and that the Congress will come out stronger from the present crisis as had happened in the past as well.
“There was no need for Mr Kapil Sibal to mention our internal issue in media; this has hurt the sentiments of party workers across the country,” he said.
“Congress has seen various crises including 1969, 1977, 1989 and later in 1996 -- but every time we came out stronger due to our ideology, programmes, policies and firm belief in party leadership,” the Rajasthan chief minister added.
The Congress won just 19 of the 70 seats it contested in Bihar; its partner, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) won 75 seats and emerged as the single largest party in the 243-assembly; and the Left parties won 16 of the 29 they fought as part of the grand alliance.
“We have improved with each and every crisis and also formed UPA government in 2004 under the able leadership of Soniaji (Sonia Gandhi), we shall overcome this time too. There are various reasons for electoral losses. But each time rank and file of the Congress party has shown undivided and firm belief in the party leadership and that is why we came out of it stronger and united after every crises,” Gehlot said.
While the Congress officially maintained silence on Sibal’s remarks, another “dissenter” or letter-writer Vivek Tankha came out in support of the former union minister.
“Kapil ji is an iconic lawyer & hard core congress personality. Together & individually we have fought countless battles and continue to fight against BJP shenanigans. For our democracy to survive Congress has to survive. Time to act is now or tomorrow may be too late,” he tweeted.
The party’s Lok Sabha member Karti P Chidambaram also backed Sibal and said it is time for introspection and consultation in the organisation.
“It’s time we introspect, ideate, consult and act,” said Karti, son of former union minister P Chidambaram, in a tweet.
The Lok Sabha MP from Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu also tagged a tweet by Sibal on his remarks about the Bihar elections.
But Delhi Congress president Anil Chaudhary launched an indirect attack on Sibal, saying that he has been inactive in Delhi politics for some time despite being a Member of Parliament (MP) from the national capital in the past.
“Sibal ji, Delhi is capital of India. You have been an MP from here, also, a union minister. But for some time you have been inactive in Delhi politics. Let’s together fight Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal,” he tweeted in Hindi.
A Congress functionary said senior party leaders will meet soon to discuss the Bihar poll outcome and one such meeting could even take place on Tuesday.
Earlier, Congress Working Committee (CWC) member and general secretary Tariq Anwar too called for “deep introspection” following the party’s abysmal performance in the Bihar polls but maintained that there was no need for Sibal to make any remarks that would benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party
“This is about Bihar elections and Mr Sibal should understand that. Keeping the critical timing in mind, he should not make any statement that will benefit the BJP,” he said.
Anwar also defended Rahul Gandhi, saying the leader of a national party cannot be expected to devote time and energy to a state poll like the leader of a regional outfit.
He was reacting to remarks by senior RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari’s remarks that the Congress had “shackled” the MGB and that Rahul Gandhi was “picnicking” with his sister Priyanka Gandhi in Shimla when campaigning was at its peak in Bihar.
“First of all, Shivanand Tiwari is not an authorized spokesperson for the RJD. Also, he should realise that Congress is a national party while the RJD is a regional entity. The leader of a national party cannot be expected to devote time to a state election like a regional leader would,” Anwar said.
His comments need to be seen in the context of Prime Minister Narendra Modi being the star campaigner for the BJP and the NDA in the Bihar election.
Still, in an interview on November 15, Anwar admitted that his party’s poor show was the reason that the MGB could not form the government in Bihar.
“We must accept the truth. Because of the poor performance of the Congress, Bihar has been deprived of a MGB government. The Congress must introspect as to where it faltered,” he said.
The Congress also hit back at Tiwari for levelling “baseless allegations” against the party, calling him a “turncoat” and claiming that his “loyalty” appears to be with his former party, the Janata Dal (United).
“Shivanand Tiwari has changed parties several times. He was an MP from JD(U). It is not surprising that his loyalty still seems to be with JD(U),” said Congress party’s Bihar in-charge Shaktisinh Gohil in a statement.
The RJD also distanced itself from Tiwari’s remarks. “It is his personal opinion and not the party’s stand. There is a proper time and place for any analysis, which will be done to identify where we lacked in cooperation and synergy,” RJD leader Manoj Jha said.