Congress leader Kapil Sibal on Saturday said that the party was getting weak and needed to be strengthened, reported NDTV. Sibal made the statement at an event in Jammu attended by many members of the G-23 – a name given to a group comprising various dissenting Congress leaders who had questioned the party’s high command earlier.

“The truth is that we see the Congress getting weak,” he said at the “Shanti Sammelan” event. “That is why we have gathered. We gathered earlier too and we have to strengthen the party together.”

Sibal said that he was saddened by the party’s decision to allow former Rajya Sabha MP Ghulam Nabi Azad to retire from Parliament, reported The Indian Express.

“He [Ghulam Nabi Azad] is one such leader who knows the ground reality of Congress in every district of every state,” Sibal said. “We were saddened when we realised that he is being freed from Parliament. We didn’t want him to go from Parliament... I can’t understand why Congress is not using his experience.”

Besides Sibal, the event was attended by Azad, former Union minister Anand Sharma, Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha, Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari, party leader Raj Babbar and former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Many of these leaders echoed Sibal’s view on the party.

“People say we are a part of G-23; for me, it’s Gandhi 23,” Babbar said, according to the Hindustan Times, “With the belief, resolve and thinking of Mahatma Gandhi, this nation’s law and Constitution was formed. Congress is standing strongly to take these forward. G-23 want Congress to be strong.”

Sharma claimed that the leaders at the event were speaking for the betterment of the party. “It should be strengthened everywhere once again,” he said. “The new generation should connect [to the party]. We have seen the good days of the Congress. We do not want to see it weakening as we become older.”

Azad seemed to cancel party leader Rahul Gandhi’s north-south remarks that courted controversy. “Be it Jammu or Kashmir or Ladakh, we respect all religions, people and castes,” Azad said. “We respect everyone equally... that is our strength and we will continue with this..”

In an event in Kerala, Gandhi had made controversial remarks about the difference between voters in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala following which Bharatiya Janata Party leaders had accused the Congress of trying to “divide and rule” India.

The meeting was said to be is held to honour Azad, a Congress veteran who recently retired from Parliament after four decades. However, an unidentified party official told the Hindustan Times that this meeting was a message to the Congress high command. “We want to tell the party leadership that we are united, we have an issue and they must do something about it,” he added.

Meanwhile, responding to the event, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi urged his party colleagues to focus on working in poll-bound states.

“When elections are happening in five states, these leaders could have been in these states to strengthen the Congress... the best contribution to the Congress cause is to engage in these states,” he said.

He, however, added that that the party was proud of them. “With the greatest of respect [and] on behalf of the Congress, each of those in Jammu are senior leaders,” he said. “We are proud of them and so are they. We are a family.”

In August, at least 23 Congress leaders, including Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Prithviraj Chavan and Milind Deora, had written to Sonia Gandhi, asking for a complete revamp of the party’s organisation. 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.

In December, Sonia Gandhi had met the dissenters in a bid to address the crisis plaguing the party. Last month, it was decided that a new Congress chief would be elected in June.