Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Thursday met former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda – in his first meeting with a leader from the “Group of 23” since the party’s poor performance in the Assembly elections, PTI reported.

The Group of 23, or G-23, comprises Congress leaders who have been seeking an organisational overhaul in the party since 2020.

At Thursday’s meeting, Gandhi suggested that Hooda should meet party president Sonia Gandhi, The Indian Express quoted unidentified sources as saying. However, the former Haryana chief minister reportedly said that Rahul Gandhi was the Congress chief for all practical purposes, as he had been taking decisions.

Later, Hooda met senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, another member of the G-23. The party’s deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, also took part in the meeting, according to PTI. The three leaders discussed ways to strengthen the Congress and ensure collective leadership within the party.

Meanwhile, another member of the G-23, Manish Tewari, said that the Congress faces an “existential crisis” and said that internal elections need to be held at all levels in the party.

“You cannot have a situation where you select an electoral college and the electoral college, in turn, elects a leader,” he said, according to The Indian Express. “I think if we go down that path, it will be completely suicidal.”

Tewari added that there appeared to be a “disconnect between the ground reality and decision-making” in the Congress.

Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi is likely to meet Azad on Friday, NDTV cited unidentified sources as saying.

On Wednesday, Azad and other leaders of thee G-23 leaders had said that the “only way forward” for the Congress was to adopt a model of “collective and inclusive leadership and decision-making at all levels”.

“In order to oppose the BJP, it is necessary to strengthen the Congress party,” the leaders had said. “We demand the Congress party to initiate dialogue with other like-minded forces to create a platform to pave the way for a credible alternative for 2024.”

Apart from Azad, the statement was signed by 18 Congress leaders including Shashi Tharoor, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Anand Sharma, Prithviraj Chavan and PJ Kurian.

Congress’ poll defeats

On March 10, the Congress was defeated in all five states where Assembly elections were held – Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Punjab, Manipur and Uttarakhand.

The Congress had managed to win only 55 of the 690 seats spread across the five states. It lost Punjab to the Aam Aadmi Party and failed to wrest power from the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.

In Uttar Pradesh, Congress won just two seats in the 403-member state Assembly. In all states except Uttarakhand, the Congress’ vote share and the number of seats plummeted.

Currently, the party is in power in just two states – Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. In Maharashtra, the Congress is in a coalition government with the Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party.