Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge on Thursday accused his colleagues of “weakening” the party from within by targeting the leadership following defeat in the Bihar elections, reported PTI.

“It has pained me that some senior leaders have spoken against the party and its leadership,” he said at an event to mark the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Kharge said that on one hand the Congress has to deal with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and, on the other, its own party leaders.

“If we weaken the party and our leaders in such a way, definitely the party cannot go forward, and ultimately if our ideology is weakened we will be destroyed,” he said. “You will have to keep this in mind.”

His comments came after a few Congress leaders criticised the party leadership for the poor performance in the Bihar Assembly elections and various bye-polls.

The National Democratic Alliance returned to power in Bihar, winning 125 seats in the 243-member Assembly. The Opposition Grand Alliance bagged 110. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, led by 31-year-old Tejashwi Yadav, emerged as the single-largest party with 75 seats. The Congress, which is part of the Grand Alliance, was able to secure only 19 seats.

On Thursday, Kharge cited an old phrase that the true nature of friends can be measured during a defeat and that of a family during illness and said that now after the defeat, the true nature of some of the party leaders can be seen. “When the party is in a good position everyone will praise... when weak or lost they blame [the leadership] for not paying heed to them,” he said, advising workers not to follow their examples.

He pointed out that 90% of the tickets to candidates are given on the advice of state leaders. Despite this, these leaders complain that nobody listens to them after a defeat.

On electing the party chief, Kharge said that the Congress Working Committee chose Sonia Gandhi as the interim head till elections are held. “The polls are yet to be held and Covid-19 hasn’t still gone, we can’t have 100 people together in one place, and yet, people are talking,” he added.

Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah said that Kharge was speaking after being pained by the developments within the party.

On Monday, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal had blamed the party leadership for not recognising the matters ailing the party, despite knowing about them. He also conceded that people “do not consider Congress an alternative”.

“If they [Congress leadership] do not recognise those answers, then the graph will continue to decline,” he warned. Sibal statement was close on the heels of his party’s below-par performance in Bihar Assembly elections, where the Congress won only 19 out of the 70 seats it contested. On the same day, Congress MP Karti Chidambaram said that it was time for the party to “introspect, ideate, consult and act” following its poor performance in the Bihar General Assembly elections.

On Tuesday, Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said that the results of the recently-held Bihar Assembly elections and bye-polls in several states show that the party either had no organisational presence left on the ground or it had weakened considerably.

Various leaders in the party have been demanding a change in the organisation. At least 23 party leaders, including Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Prithviraj Chavan and Milind Deora, had in August written to party president Sonia Gandhi, asking for a complete transformation of the organisation.

In August, party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad had had also called for internal elections and said that a president appointed without one may not even have 1% support of the leaders.

Besides Azad, Tharoor had also called for holding elections to appoint the party chief. He had, however, maintained that the elections should be held if Rahul Gandhi does not wish to take over as the party president. “A participatory democratic process would significantly add to the incoming leadership’s credibility and legitimacy which, in turn, would be vital assets as they set about the significant organisational challenges associated with re-energising the Congress,” he had said.