Sonia blames poll rout on prices, weak organisation

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 8 2012, 05:17am hrs
Sonia GandhiCongress president Sonia Gandhi addresses the media after a meeting to review the party?s performance in the Assembly elections, in New Delhi on Wednesday.
The electoral debacle in Assembly polls in five states rattled the Congress leadership enough to force Sonia Gandhi to leap to her partys and son Rahul Gandhis defence. In a rare media interaction, she said price rise could have been a cause of the partys poor showing, but added there was no question of changing the Prime Minister.

Indias headline inflation had remained stubbornly above 9% for 12 months in a row, before declining to 7.47% in December and further to 6.55%

in January, a level still above the comfort zone of the government. Persistently high food inflation, before it fell steeply a few weeks ago, had been particularly worrisome for policymakers.

After a stock-taking of all five states that went to polls recently, out of which the Congress managed to retain only one, Gandhi conceded defeat saying the party accepts the mandate of the people. Every election, whether the party wins or loses, is

a lesson. When asked who would be the Congress prime ministerial candidate in 2014, the party president and UPA chairperson ducked the question, saying this is 2012; there is time.

When specifically quizzed about Uttar Pradesh, Gandhi said the organisation there was weak and that the party suffered because there were too many leaders in the state. The last statement seemed to be a reference to the damage done by senior ministers and leaders of the party with some irresponsible statements. The people of UP were upset with the BSP and the option before them was the SP, she said.

On losing the majority of Assembly seats in Rae Bareilly and Amethi, the Gandhi pocket-borough in Uttar Pradesh, she said it had happened in the past too, and that it seems people were not happy with the sitting MLAs in these seats. We had a new candidate in Amethi and he won.

Gandhi had met general secretaries in charge of all five states separately for over three hours and emerged from these meetings to take questions from the media. The only other time Gandhi has taken questions on the partys performance like this was after the Congress failure to even reach double digits in the Bihar Assembly.

Gandhi remained firm on not including corruption among the issues which swayed voters. We were the government which pushed for the Lokpal Bill, she said. She added results in Punjab were also a cause of worry and Manpreet Badals People Party of Punjab had cut into Congress votes.

With Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat coming up later this year, she said the party needed to pull up its socks.

Gandhis impromptu press conference reflected the uneasiness within the Congress and sought to quell rumours of a leadership change in the government. Whether or not it will end some of the policy paralysis which has gripped the government will only be revealed in time.