Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Sunday said there was no change in his demands for holding internal elections in the party, reported ANI. Azad said that things in the party would not change till functioning changes at every level.

Azad is among the Congress leaders who have demanded changes in the organisation. The demand has built up over the past few weeks with several people criticising top leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi over the Congress’ poor performance in recently-held Bihar Assembly polls and bye-elections.

“I’m giving a clean chit to Gandhis due to [the] Covid-19 pandemic as they can’t do much right now,” he said. “We have not backed down from our four demands... Our leadership should hold elections if they want to become a national alternative and revive the party.” He added that the party leadership has agreed to some of the demands placed by dissenting leaders. The demands included the election of a full-time president as well as for the members of the Congress Working Committee.

“Leadership needs to give a programme to party workers and hold elections for posts,” he told the news agency. “One should be so indispensable that leadership asks for you in your absence.”

The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister added that the party’s structure had collapsed. “We need to rebuild our structure and then if any leader is elected in that structure, it will work,” Azad said. “But saying that just by changing the leader, we’ll win Bihar, UP [Uttar Pradesh], MP [Madhya Pradesh] and others, is wrong.”

He criticised the “five-star” culture in the party, saying that the Congress would not be able to win any polls till it is done away it. The Congress leader pointed out that leaders, after getting a party ticket, book a five-star hotel and even refuse to travel on rough roads. He added that the “culture of sycophancy” is the reason behind the downfall of the party and its leaders.

The Congress leader also clarified that his stance was not of rebellion but one of demanding reforms. He explained that rebellion is when there are calls for replacing someone, adding that there was no candidate for the post of party president.

Azad is among a section of party leaders who are demanding changes in the party. Recently, party leader Kapil Sibal had also criticised the party for its poor performance in the recently-concluded Bihar elections, where the party bagged only 19 of the 70 seats it had contested. Sibal had blamed the leadership for not recognising the matters ailing the party and said that people “do not consider Congress an alternative”.

In August, at least 23 party leaders, including Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Prithviraj Chavan and Milind Deora, had written to Sonia Gandhi, asking for a complete transformation of the organisation. Tharoor had also called for holding elections to appoint the party chief. Azad too had called for internal elections.

Congress not an effective opposition: Kapil Sibal

On Sunday, Sibal continued his tirade against the Congress, claiming that the party was no longer an effective opposition, reported The Times of India. “How can a party function without a leader for one and half years [since Rahul Gandhi quit from the party chief post]... Congress workers don’t know where to go,” he said.

He tallied the bye-polls results and said that the party lost all seats in Gujarat and 65% of the votes went to the Bharatiya Janata Party because of the seats vacated by Congress defectors. “In MP, all 28 seats fell vacant because of Congress defectors but Congress won only eight seats,” he said. “Where there is a one-to-one battle with BJP, we aren’t an effective alternative. There must be something wrong. We must do something about it,” he said.

He expressed displeasure over the Congress leadership not holding any discussion on the letter written by the 23 party leaders.

No leadership crisis in Congress: Salman Khurshid

Amid the dissent against the party by senior leaders, Congress veteran Salman Khurshid said that there was no leadership crisis in the party, according to PTI. He added that there was all-round support for party chief Sonia and leader Rahul Gandhi and it was “apparent to anyone who is not blind”.

“The leadership listens to me, I am given an opportunity, they [those criticising in the media] are given an opportunity, where does this thing come from that the leadership is not listening,” Khurshid told the news agency.

He said that the statements by a section of party leaders criticising the leadership are hurtful as there are enough forums in the Congress to address their grievances.

On former finance minister P Chidambaram’s statement over party’s poor performance in the elections, Khurshid said that he cannot disagree with what they have said but asked why the dissenting leaders had to go to the media to air their views.

“Analysis is done all the time, there is no quarrel about analysis,” he said. “It will be done. The leadership, of which all these people are a part, will appropriately look at what may have gone wrong, how we could have improved, and that will happen in the normal course, we needn’t talk about it in the public.”

He asked those voicing concern over Sonia Gandhi being the interim chief for more than a year who decides one year is too long for the post. Khurshid asserted that there must be a good reason why electing a new president was taking time.

Khurshid, a permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee, added that the election committee was working on the polls for choosing the president but was taking time because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Why are we so worried that we have lost power and therefore we must get back into power in weeks or months or years, etc,” Khurshid asked. “If it doesn’t happen for a while, we will continue to work. Politics is about the passion for a cause, politics is not about a pre-qualification for power. We must pursue our cause and we will pursue our cause.”