After the Bihar election exposed the Congress as the weakest link in an opposition that put up a strong fight, a top leader has gone public with his critique of the party leadership and called for "experienced minds, experienced hands and those who understand political realities" to revive the organisation. Former Union Minister Kapil Sibal, in his unfiltered critique of the leadership, has also said the "time for introspection is over".
"... we need to do several things at several levels - organisationally, articulation in the media in whatever form, putting up people who the people want to listen to, providing an active, thoughtful leadership who can articulate with a lot of circumspection," Kapil Sibal told the Indian Express newspaper. Congress men, he said, "must recognize that we are in decline".
Referring to the Congress's abysmal performance in Bihar as well as bypolls across the country, including in states like Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh where the party is still a strong force, Mr Sibal said: "Where we were an alternative the people of that state have not reposed their confidence in the Congress in the manner expected by us. So the time for introspection is over. We know the answers. The Congress must be brave and willing to recognise them."
Mr Sibal was one of the 23 Congress leaders behind the "dissent letter" that caused an all-out clash within the party in August but yielded very little by way of actual changes besides the downgrading of key letter writers.
"Since there has been no dialogue and there seems to be no effort for a 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 the Congress provides the alternative to a power structure which has subverted all the values that the nation stands for," Mr Sibal said in the interview.
Suggesting a complete do-over, the senior Congress leader said: "First we have to have 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... We need alliances, we need to reach out to people. We cannot anymore expect people to come to us. We are not the kind of force that we used to be. We need to reach out to others by those who are experienced in this business. But in order to do that we have to have a conversation."
On whether the leadership was taking the Bihar defeat like "business as usual", Mr Sibal said: "I have not heard the leadership tell me anything. So I don't know. 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 in the by-elections. Maybe they think all is well and that it should be business as usual."
Mr Sibal also posted the interview on Twitter. Retweeting it, Congress MP Karti Chidambaram commented: "It's time we introspect, ideate, consult and act."
In last week's Bihar election results, the opposition won 110 seats, a dozen short of the majority mark in the 243-member assembly. Tejashwi Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) emerged as the largest party but the Congress, which contested 70 seats but won only 19, is seen to have dragged the opposition's tally down. Even the smaller Left parties pulled their weight.
A top RJD leader, Shivanand Tiwari, called the Congress a burden on the opposition Mahagathbandhan. "They had fielded 70 candidates but didn't hold even 70 public rallies. Rahul Gandhi came for three days, Priyanka (Gandhi Vadra) didn't come, those who were unfamiliar with Bihar came here. This is not right," Mr Tiwari told news agency ANI. He added scathingly: "Elections were in full swing here and Rahul Gandhi was having a picnic at Priyanka ji's house in Shimla. Is the party run like that?"