Sonia blames party weakness for debacle

New Delhi: The Congress debacle in state elections will not “damage” the UPA government, party president Sonia Gandhi said Wednesday, blaming weak organizational structure and wrong choice of candidates among possible reasons for the disaster.

But Gandhi declared that there was no question of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepping down following the terrible electoral beating the Congress suffered in Goa, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh and poor showing in Uttarakhand.

“I do not think the results will damage the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government,” Gandhi told reporters outside her residence after reviewing the results in five states with party leaders here.

Asked if there was a possibility of Manmohan Singh stepping down and the Congress selecting another leader for the post, she said: “The question does not arise.”

She evaded a question on Congress general secretary and son Rahul Gandhi’s credibility as a successor to Manmohan Singh after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

“There is still time to decide on the UPA’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014. It’s only 2012.”

Rahul Gandhi, who had campaigned extensively in Uttar Pradesh, had said the same thing Tuesday after the party won just 28 of the 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh.

The party also barely scraped past the BJP in Uttarakhand and lost in Goa and Punjab. The only silver lining was Manipur where it retained power.

“Our party organisation was weak in UP… People were angry with the (ruling) BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) and they saw Samajwadi Party as an alternative,” Gandhi said.

Gandhi defended the party’s poor showing in the Gandhi family strongholds Amethi and Rae Bareli (where Congress could get only two out of 10 seats): “There have been such defeats earlier.

“People were not happy with the sitting MLAs… the new candidates won,” she said.

Gandhi attributed wrong choice of candidates and price rise as possible reasons for the poor show.

“There are a number of reasons… Our choice of candidates was wrong but not the main reason… Price rise could be one of them,” she said.

“We will sit down, review the results and work out a plan to correct our mistakes.”

“Whether we win or lose, every election has a lesson for us,” said Gandhi.

In Uttarakhand, where the Congress has 32 seats in the 70-member house, one more than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Gandhi said her party must be called to form the government.

She said Congress prospects were damaged by the debutant Punjab People’s Party (PPP). “The PPP damaged us in 23 seats.”

On Goa, where the BJP is set to form a government, Gandhi said many voters were unhappy with the party.

She said the results won’t hurt the UPA government at the centre, and if the government continues to talk to its allies and the opposition parties, they will support it on issues benefiting the country.

Earlier in the day, she had met key leaders at a party meeting attended by all general secretaries, including Rahul Gandhi.

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh had also met Sonia Gandhi Tuesday and offered his resignation, owing responsibility for the defeat in Uttar Pradesh.

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