Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad, one of the key dissenters in the party, today offered another explanation of the party’s recent slump when it comes to elections. Speaking in the middle of the latest controversy to hit the party – sharp criticism by party colleague Kapil Sibal after the Bihar election – Mr Azad said leaders who get a ticket now turn their backs on the heat and dust of campaign, preferring instead to remain ensconced in five-star comfort.
“The problem with our leaders is that if they get a party ticket, they first book a five-star hotel. Even there they want a deluxe place. Then they will not move without an air-conditioned car. They will not go to places where there is an untarred road,” he told news agency ANI.
“Elections are not fought from five-star hotels… We can’t win until we change this culture,” he added.
From parachuting outside in-charges to poor leadership from the top, much has been cited as the reason for the party’s dismal performance.
“Many blame the leaders. The Congress president or Rahul Gandhi,” Mr Azad said, pointing instead to local leaders of the party who are appointed to top posts.
“They have lost the connection with people. The block leaders or district leaders. The moment someone gets a rank, they print their letter pads and visiting cards and think the job is done. But that is where the work begins,” he added.
Indicating that the top leadership was not going wrong either, he said under Sonia Gandhi, the Congress won five states in four to five years, “when I was in-charge of election affairs”.
“We won in Karnataka, Kerala and we formed an alliance in Tamil Nadu. In Andhra Pradesh, we won in 2004. The party leadership did not interfere in the party functioning,” he said.
“In Andhra Pradesh, we had five parliamentary seats which increased to 37 in 2004. The UPA-I government was formed mainly because of Congress’s performance in Andhra Pradesh. In the assembly elections, our seats increased to around 180. In one-and-a-half years, I visited Delhi only thrice. I visited Hyderabad city only twice as most of the programmes were conducted in the rural areas. I had remained union minister but still, I worked in the rural areas. Elections are not won through a five-star culture,” he added.
He said that as long as office-bearers are not elected but appointed, they would not connect with the grassroots. There should be people who are elected, Mr Azad added.
In the interview with The Indian Express, Mr Sibal had pointed to the party’s reverses in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, and said he had been forced to go public with his views as “there has been no dialogue and there seems to be no effort for a dialogue by the leadership”.
Three key leaders in the Congress had been vocal with their criticism about his remarks. Among them Salman Khurshid, a Gandhi family loyalist, had said, “I have said very clearly that the Gandhis are leaders of the Congress. Nobody can deny this. I don’t worry about whether or not we have a president”.