Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, in what appeared an indirect criticism of party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, told NDTV today that he had cautioned the party leadership in charge of Uttar Pradesh against contesting an election and rebuilding the party at the same time. He had suggested that the rebuilding come first, he said.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, tasked with rebuilding the party in Uttar Pradesh four years ago by her brother and then Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, was openly talking of doing both during the campaign.
The Congress has been steadily losing ground in Uttar Pradesh, a state it has not ruled since 1989. In the recently concluded assembly election, the party was practically wiped out, losing five of the seven seats it won in 2017. The party’s voteshare shrunk to a paltry 2.4 per cent.
“In UP, we all know the party has withered away over the years,” Mr Chidambaram told NDTV in an exclusive interview, where he also insisted that the Gandhis could not be held responsible for the party’s recent election defeats.
“People in charge of UP tried to do two things at the same time. First was rebuilding the party, and fighting an election. I had cautioned them that both can’t be done at the same time. The rebuilding of the party must come first. And an election can come later. But unfortunately the rebuilding of the party and the election battle took place at the same time,” he added.
Then he went on to say, “So there are serious deficiencies in the party which I have pointed out, which others like (Kapil) Sibal and (Ghulam Nabi) Azad have pointed out and so we have to address those organisational weaknesses”.
Mr Azad and Mr Sibal are among the dissident leaders dubbed G-23, who had called for sweeping organisational changes and accountable leadership two years ago.
Amid calls for hard changes after the latest round of defeat, the G-23 leaders have been holding regular meetings, raising speculation about a possible split in the party.
Urging the group not to split the party, Mr Chidambaram said, “My appeal to them would be to go back to their constituencies and build the party. Everyone should go back and rebuild party units”.
Insisting that the Gandhis did accept responsibility for the defeat, Mr Chidambaram said it was the way he had accepted responsibility for Goa, and others did for other states.
“Nobody is running away from responsibility. But the responsibility lies with everybody in a leadership position, be it at the block, district, state and AICC (All India Congress Committee) level. It is not enough to say that the AICC leadership is responsible,” he added.