The Bihar election and by-poll results show that the Congress has no organisational presence on the ground or has weakened considerably, senior leader P Chidambaram has said, delivering another shot of home-truths in the middle of turmoil over Kapil Sibal's open criticism.
Mr Chidambaram, who has been more guarded than many within the Congress on the party's election debacles and the leadership drift, also told the newspaper Dainik Bhaskar in an interview that the party may have contested more seats in Bihar than it should have.
"I am more worried about the by-poll results in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. These results show that the party either has no organisational presence on the ground or has been weakened considerably," said the former Union Minister, on the question of the Congress's setbacks despite the coronavirus crisis and the economic slowdown handing it strong campaign points.
"In Bihar, the RJD-Congress had a chance of winning. Why we lost despite being so close to victory is something that needs comprehensive review. Remember, not long ago the Congress had won Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand," he said.
Mr Chidambaram said the Bihar results had proved that even smaller parties like CPI-ML and AIMIM can perform if they are organizationally strong at the grassroots level. "The opposition alliance can get as many votes as the BJP-led coalition but to beat them, we have to strengthen our organization at the ground level."
On the Congress being judged the weakest link in the Tejashwi Yadav-led opposition Mahagathbandhan, the veteran leader conceded: "I feel the Congress contested more seats than its organizational strength. The Congress was given 25 seats where the BJP or its allies had been winning for 20 years. The Congress should have refused to contest from these seats. The party should have fielded only 45 candidates."
He referred to polls ahead in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Bengal and Assam. "Let us see what the results are in these states," he said.
Mr Chidambaram replied cautiously to a question on former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi calling for a non-Gandhi to lead the party. "I can't say who will be chosen president in the AICC (All India Congress Committee) meeting. Anyone can contest the polls," he said.
Many voices are emerging from the Congress since Kapil Sibal went public with his critique of the party's Bihar performance and called for changes, saying the time for introspection is over. Mr Sibal told the Indian Express that the party "must recognize it is in decline" and added that "experienced minds, experienced hands and those who understand political realities" were needed.
The opposition fell a few seats short of victory in Bihar and the Congress has been widely blamed for dragging its tally down. The party contested 70 seats and could win only 19. The Congress also failed to score in crucial by-elections, especially in Madhya Pradesh and UP.