Congress leader Kapil Sibal's open criticism of the party leadership after the Bihar debacle has provoked a sharp and public rebuttal from Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who said in a series of tweets today that there was "no need" for his colleague to mention "internal issues" in the media. The veteran Congress leader also said after every electoral loss, the party had shown "undivided and firm belief in the party leadership" and had emerged stronger from each crises.
The public blow-out following yet another poll defeat, a familiar Congress play, revives the party's unresolved leadership crisis three months after it called a big meet and claimed all was 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," Ashok Gehlot said in his tweets.
He also said the party had improved with each and every crisis under Sonia Gandhi and would this time too. "Everytime we came out stronger due to our ideology, programs, policies and firm belief in the party leadership. We have improved with each and every crisis and also formed the UPA government in 2004 under the able leadership of Soniaji, we shall overcome this time too," the Congress veteran wrote.
Kapil Sibal, not mincing words, had said that the party must recognize it is in decline and "experienced minds, experienced hands and those who understand political realities" were needed to revive the organisation.
The "time for introspection is over", Mr Sibal told the Indian Express in an interview that he also tweeted.
"...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," said the former union minister.
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 changed little except for key letter-writers being shunted out. The letter had suggested sweeping changes after the Congress lost power in Madhya Pradesh after a revolt by Jyotiraditya Scindia and barely saved its Rajasthan government after a rebellion.
"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.
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."
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, proved to be a dead weight.
A top RJD leader, Shivanand Tiwari, called the Congress a burden on the opposition Mahagathbandhan. "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," Mr Tiwari told news agency ANI.