Senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily on Sunday asserted that the party needs a “major surgery” after their dismal performance in the Lok Sabha elections, PTI reported. He said Congress President Rahul Gandhi must carry out a complete overhaul of the party by holding elections at every level and must stop infighting within the party with an “iron hand”.

Reiterating his earlier stance, Moily said that only Gandhi can lead the party. He said that those in charge of the All India Congress Committee and state units of the Congress must be held accountable, and not the Congress president.

Gandhi had offered to resign from the party’s top post on May 25 after the party won only 52 out of 543 Parliamentary seats. However, the Congress Working Committee had unanimously rejected his resignation.

“He [Gandhi] said that owning moral responsibility he will step down,” Moily said in an interview to the news agency. “[The Congress] Working Committee has been unanimous to say that he has to continue. That holds good even today.”

The veteran Congress leader said it is not fair for Gandhi, who took over the party in 2017, to resign as president after being at the helm only for about one-and-a-half-years. He asserted that Rahul Gandhi must be given substantial amount of time to prove his worth.

“This is not the time to deliberate on who should be the next president,” the former Union minister said, urging Gandhi to firmly take over since elections are nearing in states such as Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Haryana. “He [Gandhi] has to put proper people in-charge of states in the AICC, start the process right now, without any loss of time. Proper candidates for elections will have to be selected... One has to take the reins in his hands and that should be done only by Rahul Gandhi now.”

Moily said the idea is that “we have to have a major surgery over the party”.

“Elections at every level [must be carried out] so that we can demonstrate to the world and the country that we have fresh blood,” he added. “Getting in fresh blood is important, that has been clogged somewhere in the party organisation. This is what Rahul Gandhi has to do and he alone can do it.”

His assertions come in the backdrop of open factional fights in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy and State Congress chief Sachin Pilot indulged in a blame game for the Lok Sabha defeat; an internal meeting of Congress leaders in Haryana saw ugly exchanges; and in Punjab also there has been tension as Chief Minister Amarinder Singh stripped his Navjot Singh Sidhu of an important portfolio.

Moily also expressed confidence that the Congress can take on the role of a dynamic opposition given the low numbers in the Lok Sabha. He said: “Numbers are not important. The passion with which we take up the cause of the party is important.”

“Nobody can write the obituary of the Congress,” he concluded. “It has sustenance power and it will come back.”