The leaders of the Congress party's "Group of 23" on Wednesday said the only way forward for the grand old party is to adopt a model of collective and inclusive leadership and decision-making at all levels.
In a statement, the G-23 leaders, who met at the residence of former Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, urged the Congress leadership to initiate talks with like-minded forces to create a way for a credible alternative to the ruling BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The G-23 saw some more leaders joining the dinner meeting at Azad's residence, which was convened to work out the grouping's future strategy and discuss the Congress's debacle in the just-concluded Assembly polls in five states.
The meeting lasted for over four hours and all the leaders spoke about the strategy to be adopted.
Sources said Azad also spoke to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and conveyed to her the feelings of the grouping, while assuring her of their support in strengthening the organisation.
Azad and Anand Sharma reposed faith in Gandhi's leadership at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Sunday.
Incidentally, the grouping sidestepped the issue of leadership, after Kapil Sibal said Gandhi should step aside and pave the way for another leader.
The leaders said they met to deliberate on the demoralising outcome of the recent poll results and the constant exodus of party leaders and workers.
"We believe that the only way forward for the Congress is to adopt a model of collective and inclusive leadership and decision making at all levels.
"In order to oppose the BJP, it is necessary to strengthen the Congress party. We demand the Congress party to initiate dialogue with other like-minded forces to create a platform to pave the way for a credible alternative for 2024," the joint statement of the G-23 said.
The next steps in this regard will be announced soon, it added.
Sources said the grouping had earlier planned a dinner at Sibal's residence, but it was changed at the last minute.
Among the leaders who attended the meeting were Sibal, Sharma, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor, Vivek Tankha, Raj Babbar, Akhilesh Prasad Singh and Sandeep Dikshit.
The ambit of the G-23 grouping widened this time as some more leaders -- Patiala MP Preneet Kaur, former Gujarat chief minister Shankar Singh Vaghela, former Punjab chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, former Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, former Rajya Sabha deputy chairman P J Kurian and former Haryana speaker Kuldeep Sharma joined the dinner meeting, besides M A Khan.
The grouping had given an open invite to other Congress leaders to join them at the dinner meeting.
The sources said the meeting was convened to apprise all the G-23 members of the decisions taken at the crucial CWC meet.
Two prominent G-23 members - Azad and Sharma - were to apprise the other members of the developments at the CWC meeting and what they said on strengthening the party in the wake of its drubbing in the Assembly polls, they said.
The performance of the Congress in these states was poor as it failed to win any of the four BJP-ruled states - Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur - while it lost Punjab to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The G-23 grouping has been critical of the Congress leadership. It has been demanding an organisational overhaul, after its members wrote a joint letter to Gandhi in 2020.
The sources said invitations were also extended to the Congress leaders who do not constitute the bloc but feel that changes are required, including at the leadership level, to revive the party's electoral fortunes.
The decision to convene a meeting of the G-23 came a day after Gandhi sought the resignation of the Congress presidents of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa.
Sibal, in his latest salvo targeting the Congress leadership, had said the Gandhis should step aside and give some other leader a chance to helm the party, provoking a backlash from the Gandhi family loyalists, who accused him of speaking the language of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The G-23 has, however, got weakened over time with senior leader M Veerappa Moily distancing himself from the group, Jitin Prasada joining the BJP and Mukul Wasnik not attending its meetings in recent times.