Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram today said only the Gandhis could not be held responsible for the party’s recent election defeats. Speaking to NDTV a day after a meeting of the Congress “G-23” or rebels, he urged the group not to split the party.
Like many Congress leaders, Mr Chidambaram also confirmed that Sonia Gandhi had offered to step down, along with her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at the election post-mortem by the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Sunday.
“The Gandhis offered to step down, but it was not accepted by the CWC. So, what is our option now? We need to speed up the process to elect a new Congress president. But the earliest that that can happen is August. But what do we do between now and August? Till then we, including me, believe that Mrs Gandhi is leading the charge,” Mr Chidambaram said.
He said Sonia Gandhi had suggested advancing the election but most leaders didn’t agree.
“G-23” leaders like Kapil Sibal have been openly calling for the Gandhis to make way for new leadership in order to revive the election-battered party.
Mr Chidambaram said it was wrong to say only the Gandhis must be blamed for the recent defeats.
“The Gandhis did accept responsibility, like I accepted responsibility for Goa, and others did for other states.
Nobody is running away from responsibility. But the responsibility lies with everybody in a leadership position, be it at the block, district, state and AICC (All India Congress Committee) level. It is not enough to say that the AICC leadership is responsible,” Mr Chidambaram told NDTV.
With the Congress pulverised in the elections held in five states, and reduced from nine to two states, the results of the CWC post-mortem triggered much disappointment, especially among the rebels – a mix of the 23 leaders who wrote to Sonia Gandhi two years ago and newcomers.
The CWC put out a familiar statement reposing faith in Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, without committing to any drastic changes.
“What is drastic? Elections will be held in three months,” Mr Chidambaram said, on moves to revive the party.
“The Congress election is in August. Are you suggesting that we pick an interim president to replace an interim president (Sonia Gandhi) for three months,” said the former Finance Minister.
“I am sure in August we will have a full-time leadership.
Between now and August all that we can do is to take necessary and comprehensive reforms in the party organisation. I believe Mrs Gandhi is doing that.”
The rebels have demanded a bigger response to the latest poll defeats and have warned of “drastic steps” if that is not done.
“I hope there will not be a split. My appeal to them is not to split the party. My appeal to them would be to go back to their constituencies and build the party. Everyone should go back and rebuild party units,” Mr Chidambaram said.
The senior leader said while his party is ready for the 2024 national election, it needs to made adjustments in order to beat the BJP.
“Every party has to make adjustments. This applies to Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal as well. The fight will be state-by-state. In Bengal we have to fight with Trinamool in the leadership. In Punjab, we have to fight with AAP as leader. If you fight the BJP state-by-state, it will be possible to defeat it,” Mr Chidambaram commented.
The Congress leader listed what he saw as the weaknesses of the Congress. “In many states, there is no party. You have to dissolve and reconstitute block committees,” he said.
“In UP – we all know the party has withered away over the years. We need to first rebuild the party then fight an election. I had cautioned the leadership, we cannot contest an election and rebuild the party at the same time.”
Mr Chidambaram conceded there were “serious deficiencies” in the party, “which I have pointed out, which others have pointed out like Kapil Sibal and Ghulam Nabi Azad. Organisational weaknesses.”
He said at various places, there were no natural leaders left, only workers. “We have to identify leaders with a passion for politics, a passion to win elections,” he said.
He also said the party needed 24/7 office-bearers, which, he added, could only be done by “people in their 40s, 50s and 60s”.
“If they need to be at the block level full-time, they will need money. We need to find a way to support full-time functionaries, full time office bearers.”