Close on the heels of his party’s poor performance in the Bihar Assembly elections, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal in an interview on Monday conceded that people “do not consider Congress an alternative”. He also blamed the leadership for not recognising the matters ailing the party, despite knowing about them.

“If they do not recognise those answers, then the graph will continue to decline,” he warned.

In an interview with The Indian Express, Sibal pointed out that besides the Congress’ below-par performance in Bihar, where it won only 19 out of the 70 seats it contested, the party faced adverse outcomes in the bye-polls too.

“We lost all the bye-elections in Gujarat,” he pointed out. “Even in the Lok Sabha elections we had not won a single seat there. In some of the constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress candidates in the bye-elections notched up less than 2% of the votes cast. Three of our candidates in Gujarat lost their deposits. So the writing is on the wall.”

He expressed concerns over the fact that the Congress has not been able to emerge as an alternative in big states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for decades now and is performing poorly even in states like Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, where the contests are not multi-cornered.

‘No dialogue, no effort for a dialogue’

In August this year, 23 Congress leaders, including Sibal, had written to party President Sonia Gandhi suggesting that there has been a “steady decline of the party”, as witnessed in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but that no “honest introspection” was done to analyse the reasons for these massive defeats.

On being asked if any action was taken on the letter, Sibal said, “There has been no dialogue and there seems to be no effort for a dialogue by the leadership”.

He asserted that the fact that the Congress Working Committee, the highest decision making body of the party, is a nominated one, is the reason behind the leadership’s reluctance to address the matters at hand.

“Democratic processes must be adopted and embraced even in the constitution of the CWC,” he said. “You don’t expect nominated members to start questioning and raise their concerns...”

Sibal further said that the party was aware of its problems but not willing to address them.

“If for six years the Congress has not introspected what hope do we have for introspection now? The Congress party itself knows all the answers. But they are not willing to recognise those answers.”

— Kapil Sibal

He rued the absence of conversation within the party, suggesting that every organisation needs that. “In the absence of a serious – and I don’t say introspection because that time is over – in the absence of seriously recognising what the problem is, we will not be able to come up with any solution,” Sibal said.

‘Culture of nominations must go’

On being asked if the elections for the post of party president and to the Congress Working Committee will help address the problems, Sibal said that “the culture of nominations must go”.

“Elections through nominations will not lead to the desired results,” he said. “Some of us put our pen to paper and said what should be done in the Congress on the road ahead. Instead of listening to us they turned their back on us.”

He however added that elections alone will not take care of the problems, unless Congress is “able to recognise its shortcomings”.

Sibal elaborated that “[state and general] elections have turned into a presidential contest” in the recent past and that the nature of campaigning has changed because of that.

“...The mainstream media is controlled by the ruling party. So we need to discover a new mechanism to reach out to the people. What is that mechanism? That needs to be thought about.”

— Kapil Sibal

He also added that in order to produce results “on ground”, Congress needs to have conversation with “with experienced minds, experienced hands, with people who understand the political realities of India, people who know what and how to articulate in the media”.

On Bihar elections

Speaking categorically on the recent Bihar elections and the bye-polls in various states, Sibal said that there has not been any message from the leadership.

“We are yet to hear from the Congress party their views on our recent performance in Bihar and in the bye-elections,” he said. “Maybe they think all is well and that it should be business as usual.”