Defeated, Sonia admits to lack of party structure in UP

Defeated, Sonia admits to lack of party structure in UP

Cong chief stands by Manmohan; says no change at helm till 2014

As the Congress took stock of the electoral debacle in Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Punjab, a defensive party chief Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday cited “wrong selection of candidates and lack of organisational structure in UP” as the major reasons for the party’s drubbing in the Assembly elections.

India's Congress Party president and chairperson of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government Sonia Gandhi gives a press conference in New Delhi on March 7, 2012. Sonia Gandhi, vowed to

Addressing the media after meeting with Congress leaders in charge of the respective states where election results were announced on Tuesday, Gandhi admitted that the electorate in the Gandhi family’s bastion of Rae Barelli and Amethi were “unhappy with the sitting legislators” and that “earlier too there have been such defeats.” However, she said that in Amethi, where a new candidate has been put up, the party won.

Defending her government, the UPA chairperson, who made a rare appearance to address the media, said there was no question of replacing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh till 2014 when the next general elections will be held. “The question does not arise,” Gandhi said, refusing to disclose who the party’s prime ministerial candidate would be for the Lok Sabha elections two years from now. “We are in 2012 and 2014 is a long way away,” she said.

Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi’s failure in UP also nixed the possibility of an immediate revival of the campaign to place him at the helm of the government.

Conceding defeat after the Congress’ lack lustre show in four out of five states, Sonia said the party tally of seats in UP, Uttarakhand, Goa and Punjab was less than expected.

While blaming price rise as one of the contributory factors for the party’s poor performance, the Congress chief said that every election, despite win or loss, was a lesson for the party. Gandhi’s comment that price rise might have led to the party’s defeat in UP and poor performance elsewhere, fuelled speculation that the government might signal the Reserve Bank of India to maintain its priority to contain price rise when it would come out with a mid-quarter review of its monetary policy on March 15 next.

Her words also apparently carried a message for Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who is set to present the General Budget on March 16. The Congress leadership would expect Mukherjee to present a populist budget, a tough job given the economic situation prevailing in the country.

To a question whether the Congress’ performance in the polls will affect the stability of the coalition government it leads at the Centre, Sonia said she did not feel that the results would “damage the UPA government”.

Asked if the leaders in charge of the states would be held responsible for the dismal performance, Gandhi said that “they had worked hard” and that the party would study, fix responsibility and work out a plan to “correct the mistakes.” She asserted that the party will pull up its socks for the elections to the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assemblies where polls are scheduled to be held later this year, and in Karnataka a year later.

To a question whether controversial statements by some senior Congress leaders cost the party UP, Gandhi said “the issue was brought to my knowledge and I think they have given clarifications on the matter.”

The Congress chief met senior party leaders separately. Congress in-charge of UP Digvijay Singh and Ahmed Patel were among the prominent leaders who met Gandhi at the party headquarter.