Senior Congress leader Tariq Anwar says that the party has made mistakes as far as the Bihar polls are concerned.
New Delhi: Senior Congress leader and All India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary, Tariq Anwar, who was a member of the Bihar poll management committee, spoke to The Sunday Guardian on the reasons behind the party’s poor performance in the state. The 69-year-old Anwar, who has been a Lok Sabha and a Rajya Sabha MP multiple times and has served as a Union minister, has been a full-time member of the party since 1972.
According to him, there was a need to take hard “steps” and fix accountability on the leaders who were given responsibility but did not perform. Edited excerpts:
Q: You were a member of the Bihar poll management and coordination committee. What explains the party being able to win only on 19 of the 70 seats it contested?
A: We have to accept our weakness; our organisational strength is not adequate in Bihar. We have not focused on that and we all are responsible for it. I also belong to Bihar, so I cannot say that I am not responsible, though I was not the in-charge.
I am in-charge of Kerala, the performance done by the party there is my responsibility. The same goes for Bihar, where in-charge is Shakti Singh Gohilji and the two secretaries, the state PCC chief—they are directly responsible for the party’s performance in the state. We have made mistakes as far as the Bihar elections are concerned.
As far as the AICC is concerned, we got all the support that we asked for, many people were sent from Delhi to Bihar to assist the party in the state, to help us. However, due to a weak infrastructure and organisation, we lost. We had gauged the weakness in our organisation during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when we could win on only 1 of the 9 seats we contested. We should have taken the results as a warning, but we did not and we woke up late. When the Assembly elections were round the corner, we started our preparations, but by that time it was too late.
We also had to tackle contradictions that come up when a party enters into an alliance with other parties regarding seats sharing. The discussion on seat sharing went on for a long time; it took a lot of time to arrive at a conclusion. By the time the seats were declared, there was hardly any time left.
Q: Senior party leader P. Chidambaram has said that the Congress should have contested on less number of seats in Bihar. Do you agree with his views?
A: In my view, Chidambaram’s assessment is wrong. As I have said earlier, we were weak, our organisation was weak, if there was a slightly better organisation on the ground, the results would have been very different.
70 seats were given to us because even our ally partners realised that the support of Congress is vital to win the elections. Please understand that despite everything, we got almost 10% vote share in the elections. This shows that people still want Congress, but we as a party are not being able to build on it because of a weak organisation.
Q: The last Congress CM that Bihar saw was in the 1990, more than 30 years ago. Will you agree, there is something vastly wrong with the Congress in the state?
A: Absolutely, I totally agree with this assertion. In Bihar, we have never focused on the organisation. If we had, we would not have been in this position.
We could have easily revived in this election because the voters were very angry with 15 years of BJP and Nitish Kumar who had the longest tenure as Bihar Chief Minister. People wanted a change, it was clear; a new leadership was being demanded. But we were not able to provide a viable alternative because of a weak organisation. Our allies performed well, but we could not. I can only say that the High Command should deliberate on these issues and hold people accountable, people need to be held accountable.
If I am given a responsibility by the party, it should be with accountability. If there is no accountability and no one is going to act on my poor performance, then it gives a wrong message. Accountability needs to be fixed by Congress President Sonia Gandhiji. Maybe it will be seen as a hard step, but hard steps need to be taken and accountability needs to be fixed.
Q: Bihar party in-charge Shakti Singh Gohil has reportedly expressed his desire to resign. However, “actions” like this happen after every election in Congress, irrespective of any state. It has become a sort of work culture of the Congress; State in-charge offers to resign and then things go back to square one and things move on.
A: Accountability needs to be fixed, if anyone has not performed, he should be, including me, held accountable and action taken. People will only work if there is accountability, if I don’t have to answer to anyone for my actions and results, why would I work sincerely? We need to learn from other parties.
Q: It is seen that Congress only gets active when there is an election round the corner, while the rest of the time it is mostly inactive. The same thing happened in Bihar, will the same happen in West Bengal?
A: The Congress is very active in West Bengal. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary, our state president, is very active there and he is doing a lot of ground-based activities, he is organising big public rallies. We will do very well in the state, we are the main Opposition party there.
Q: What explains the performance of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) in the Bihar elections? Safe to say that Muslim voters are unhappy with the Congress?
A: The Congress did not go in between them (Muslim voters), we should have been more active among them. We had already got a warning; the AIMIM got a good number of votes in the May 2019 polls, particularly in the Kishanganj region. Later, they also won the byelection that happened for a Lok Sabha seat. We should have become alert then only, we should have realised that AIMIM is denting in our influence areas. But we did not do anything. Nobody from our party has gone there, nobody contacted the people in the organisation there, the same district committee that was appointed five years ago, is still continuing, it should have been reconstituted, so should have been the block level committees. This all should have happened.
Q: You have a vast political experience when it comes to Bihar, perhaps the most among all the contemporary leaders. Do you believe that your experience was used as it should have been?
A: No, I am not satisfied; my experience could have been utilised more, for whatever reasons it was not. If there was proper utilisation, I could have contributed more.
Q: Would you name the leaders who should take responsibility for the current Bihar debacle?
A: I don’t want to take names. I have already said earlier that those who are given responsibilities, their performance, either at the block level or at the state level, should be evaluated. No one should be allowed to continue on a post for his entire life without performing.
Q: Senior party leaders like Kapil Sibal and Vivek Tankha, have, in the past, and again recently, called for tough actions to revive the party and the need to overhaul the working style. Do you think an overhaul is needed?
A: As far as the national leadership of the Congress is concerned, there is no alternative to the Gandhi-Nehru family as of today. Even a normal Congress worker believes that only this family can bring the Congress back into power and it can happen under their leadership only.
I can say that more party leaders should be involved in the decision- making process, responsibilities should be delegated.
Also, those who are already working in different positions within the party, if they become more alert, responsible towards their job, rather than criticise the leadership, they will attract more benefits for the party.
We have a Congress Working Committee (CWC) and those who are members, invitees to this CWC can freely share their advice on the forum. They should speak out there; share their issues on that platform. However, they don’t speak there, but they speak to the media, this is not good. Contradictions, suggestions should be shared with the leadership, with the CWC, not in the media; if you go to the media, the rank and file gets demoralised.