After the poor performance of the Congress in Bihar where the party won only 19 seats, party MP and leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad on Sunday said that polls are not won by five-star culture and party office-bearers should be elected.
Azad, however, gave a clean chit to the party leadership saying that the leadership could not conduct a party election due to COVID-19 but suggested it could be held within the next six months when the pandemic eases.
In an interview with ANI, Azad said: "We all are worried about losses, especially about Bihar and by-polls results. I don't blame the leadership of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. Office-bearers should understand that their responsibility begins with their appointment. They should love the party. I quote a couplet: Ye ishq nahi aasaan, bas itna samajh lije. Ik aag ka darya hai aur doob ke jaana hai. Love should be for one's party, profession and country."
"Office bearers should understand their responsibility. Till the time office bearers are appointed, they won't go to the grassroots. But if all office bearers are elected, then they will understand their responsibility. Right now, anyone gets any post in the party. Our people have lost the connection with the grassroots. One should be in love with their party. Polls aren't won by five-star culture. Problem with leaders today is if they get a party ticket, they first book a five-star hotel. They won't go if there's a rough road. Till the time 5-star culture is given up, one can't win elections," he added.
Speaking about party elections, Azad said: "The party leadership should arrange elections. There is a general impression that there is no president of the party. Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi said that party election should be held in October. But we said that the election should be held after six months due to COVID-19. The other elections are of block level. Thousands of block-level posts are empty in Bihar. Then how could we have won in the state?"
He laid stress on workers' connection with the ground and cited his own example when he was party in-charge for various assembly elections in the past.
"There should be a connect with the ground. Under Sonia Gandhi, we 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 said that till the day appointed office-bearers are there, they will not connect with the ground. There should be people who are elected, he added.
When asked about the need for a national alternative to BJP, Azad said: "For a national party, there should be a national vision. There should be a thought for the different communities whether it be Hindus, Muslims or other communities. The Congress is the only national alternative."
"In the Ladakh Hill Council elections we won nine seats out of 26 and lost some of the seats by a narrow margin. In Lakshadweep, the Zilla Panchayat is of Congress. Out of 36 there are 22 elected Congress members. In Gram Panchayats there are seven Congress members out of 10 in Lakshadweep," he added.
When asked about the Bihar poll debacle of Congress where the party got very few seats, Azad said, "Till the time we do not change our way of functioning, how will we change our fate? We need to work on the ground. The programmes should be laid out by the leadership. I do not have complaints about the leadership in terms of meeting them."
He said: "There should be block level, district level and PCC elections. The leaders should leave their five-star elections. The party people should work hard. When I was Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, I used to work for 18 to 20 hours in a day."
"When Karnataka elections were going on and I was incharge of the party, I conducted 800 public meetings in 11 months. We won in the assembly and parliamentary elections," he added.
He conceded that BJP has an advantage that it has a system and Congress needs to set up a system of its own.
"I am not saying that workers are to blame for the party's debacle. Leaders come up on their own. Modiji came up on his own. We being in the opposition are worried about the country. We need to change the system. BJP's advantage is that it has a system. Whether it be Atalji, Advaniji or any other leader, they work according to the system of the RSS," he said.
"The committees formed by the party leadership for economic affairs, national security and foreign affairs are important but we need to work at the grassroots," he added.
Azad said that the ideology of Congress is the only permanent thought that will work in a diverse country like India and other ideologies are temporary.
"With the kind of diversity we have, the only ideology that can work is Congress ideology. The ideology of Nehru, Patel and Maulana Azad is the one which will work in our country. Temporarily, other ideologies can work. We do not see who is Hindu, Muslim or any other community. Everybody is equal for us. Our ideology is not working because the motor vehicle has rusted. We are alerting the driver to run the vehicle in a proper way. We are saying upfront that things are not working," he said.
"We are not angry but critical. Lakhs of people are linked to Congress. Many of them are workers and office-bearers of the party. Sycophancy has killed many leaders politically. We have to stay away from sycophancy. There should be a zeal not to rush to Delhi but to serve people and strengthen the party. A sycophant will say that the leadership will win in any case. But a real well-wisher will give the right advice keeping in mind the future," he added. The Congress needs to be revitalised, he said.