The Congress is not a party in crisis and there is no leadership vacuum, a senior leader said today, rebutting colleagues who feel otherwise and have not held back on their criticism since the party's Bihar debacle. "Sonia Gandhi is leading the Congress. Rahul Gandhi is leading the Congress. If you don't believe they are leading unless there are labels, then that is very difficult to satisfy," said Salman Khurshid, taking issue with leaders like Kapil Sibal who have openly criticized the party's stasis.
Salman Khurshid, rebutting talk about a leadership crisis, said it would be true only if there was no leader and nobody could be picked as a leader. "There is an element of restlessness about certain leadership-related decisions to be taken. They will be taken," said the Congress leader.
He also denied that the Congress was a party that was rapidly disintegrating.
"I don't accept that we've been rejected across the country. We don't have that support that we obviously aspire to. I know for sure we have leaders," said Mr Khurshid.
"The fact is we know who the leader is, the fact is we follow the leader. If we follow the leader and we don't get what you think we should get doesn't mean we are going to give up the leader? Somebody doesn't believe we have a leader then they don't know what the party is about."
The Congress came across as the weakest link in the opposition's Bihar fight, with a strike rate worse than many smaller parties.
The party also failed to score in bypolls held across the country, including in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, where the Congress is among the main rivals. It prompted leaders like Kapil Sibal to comment that the people were no longer viewing the Congress as an alternative.
Mr Khurshid demurred: "I don't understand. We are in the opposition today, we have been badly affected over the months and even lost many elections. We are the largest opposition party. Is that saying you cannot be anything but the winning party? That there is no place in democracy for a losing party or a has-been party?"
On Bihar ally Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) calling the Congress a burden on the mahagathbandhan, Mr Khurshid shot back: "We could have point of view about the RJD as well. How does it serve any purpose by arguing in the open? We could discuss this. All of us in the country still have to learn what an alliance is, what coalition politics is all about. We don't seem to understand that."
The Congress, asserted the former Union Minister, had been through tougher times in the past and had bounced back. "We are certain the party will bounce back. But it is for us in the party to make that choice, no? Somebody is telling us, being paternalistic, that you should not make this choice. Your choice is bad. That is not fair. In a modern democracy, to be paternalistic and to impose upon people something you think is good?"
He pointed out that in the past, the party had split and many leaders had quit.
"We have a sense of comfort and faith. We cannot be told you have no business to have comfort and faith," he said.
On Congress's Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary suggesting those unhappy with the party should quit or form their own party, Mr Khurshid said: "I won't ask anyone to leave. I don't have a monopoly in the Congress that only my views must prevail. I am saying please have respect for each other. You may have a view that may be valid or may not be. Please put it across in the party. If we have a view contrary to that we will put it as well."
He added: "This conversation was started by other people. I want to know what they want. I would be happy to hear that in the party forum. I have my own view but I am not going to advertise that view across the globe. I will use that view within the party because I have faith in the party functioning in a democratic manner in which I can put my view. My view may not be accepted finally and it does not matter if it is not accepted. There has to be a give and take within a party."