India

“Need to put house in order”: Sonia Gandhi to Congress on poll results

New Delhi: Interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Monday demanded that the party “take note of our serious setbacks (and) put our house in order”, after yet more disappointing performances in elections.

She said senior leaders from Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Bengal – the states that went to the polls in April-May – would be required to “brief us, very frankly, on our performance…”

“We want them to tell us why we performed well below expectation. These results tell us clearly that we need to put our house in order,” Sonia Gandhi said, as she delivered the opening remarks at a meeting of the CWC (Congress Working Committee) – the party’s highest decision-making body.

“We have to take note of our serious setbacks. To say we are deeply disappointed is to make an understatement. I intend to set up a small group to look at every aspect that caused such reverses and report back very quickly,” she added.

The Congress is also set to discuss elections to choose a new President – a sensitive subject given the divide between senior leaders over the leadership of the party and its continuing poor performances.

June 23 was proposed for the election but the date met with resistance from some leaders. Eventually the party decided to delay the elections in view of the pandemic.

Over the past year senior leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Shashi Tharoor and Kapil Sibal have called for “full-time” and “effective leadership that will be “visible” and “active” in the field.

In August, 23 of them wrote to Mrs Gandhi to express concern over the decline of the party, and said that its revival was essential for the nation and democracy. They called for sweeping reforms, including decentralisation of power, empowerment of state units and organizational elections at every level.

The letter triggered a row that split the Congress down the middle and prompted an explosive seven-hour meeting of the CWC, during which Sonia Gandhi offered to resign before being persuaded by loyalists to remain in temporary charge.

In January, the party, after controversial (and public) spats between dissenting leaders and loyalists, said a new Congress chief would be elected in June, after the 2021 state elections were completed.

Sonia Gandhi’s strong words about election results come days after she described their performance in last month’s Assembly polls as “very disappointing” and added that it was “unexpectedly so”.

The Congress struggled to appeal to voters in this round of elections.

In Bengal, where the party joined hands with the Left, it was hut out and the alliance was decimated. By contrast the Trinamool swept to victory with 213 seats to the BJP’s 77.

In Assam – widely seen as a stronghold until it was breached in 2016 – the party did marginally better, winning 29 of 95 seats it contested. But it failed to challenge the BJP, which returned to power.

In Kerala, the Congress at least held its ground, losing just one seat from 2016 to finish woth 41. The Left front, however, registered a commanding win by claiming 99 seats. The BJP won zero seats.

In Tamil Nadu, the party was part of the winning DMK-led alliance and performed relatively better, winning 18 of 25 allocated seats. It, however,failed to return to power in Puducherry – where its government crashed days before polling – after the NR Congress-BJP pairing won 16 of 30 seats.

These results come after a poor performance in Bihar, where elections were held in October-November. The party allied with the Tejashwi Yadav’s RJD, but won jst 19 of 70 seats it contested and the alliance finished just 15 seats short of overthrowing the BJP-JDU government.

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