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Disarray within India's ruling Indian National Congress party burst into the open on Tuesday after its stunning defeat in state elections, with a senior figure saying the party would lose a general election and needed time in opposition to reinvent itself.
Mani Shankar Aiyar - a veteran of the party who is close to the Nehru-Gandhi family that has run the Congress for decades - predicted defeat in the national election due by next May.
"Who can be even half-way realistic and expect the Congress to return to power?" Mani Shankar Aiyar said.
In a further signal of uneasiness about Congress' chances in the general election, the leader of a key party in the coalition government said on Monday the state polls amounted to a rejection of "weak rulers".
"People do not want weak rulers," National Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar said, according to domestic media reports. "They want decisive and result-oriented leaders who will formulate policies for (the) poor and implement them."
Manmohan Singh, the taciturn 81-year-old prime minister, has been widely criticised for the government's policy drift and a sharp economic slowdown, and for allowing corruption to spin out of control since he was appointed to a second term in 2009.
Adding to the Congress party's troubles, half a dozen of its own lawmakers called for a parliamentary motion of no-confidence over a decision to split the southern state of Andhra Pradesh into two.
If at least 50 members of the lower house back their demand, the stage would be set for a trial of strength in which Congress would need the support of several parties to survive.
Mani Shankar Aiyar's remarks follow a disastrous showing for the Congress party in elections held over the last month in three big states and the capital, Delhi.
"A break from governance would be a welcome break that could be used to refit the party as the nation's natural party of governance in the 21st century," the upper house lawmaker wrote in a column for the Indian Express newspaper.
"The current and prospective electoral reverses for the Congress are thus Rahul's golden opportunity," he said, referring to the young scion