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Aiyar voices Cong post-rout panic

New Delhi, Dec. 10: The Congress promptly trashed Mani Shankar Aiyar’s rant against Manmohan Singh today even as panic spread among Lok Sabha MPs, who privately supported the demand for drastic changes in government and party as well as the projection of a “new” candidate for Prime Minister in 2014.

Congress spokesperson Raj Babbar was dismissive of Aiyar, saying he habitually made such comments, which had nothing to do with the party position. The Rajya Sabha MP had told journalists earlier in the day that Singh was the wrong choice for Prime Minister in 2009.

Party sources said there was no plan to change the Prime Minister at this stage although there would be changes in the government and the party soon. But there is no doubt that few leaders expect or want Singh to be projected for the third time.

Aiyar also wrote in an article in The Indian Express today that he looked forward to the Congress sitting in the Opposition in 2014 and that Rahul should use the next five years to restructure the party.

While many party MPs used his argument against Singh to seek the projection of a different leader in 2014, they were critical of his philosophical notion about sitting in the Opposition and changing the party, wondering if he was the brain behind Rahul Gandhi’s “confusion”.

The debate was triggered by Sonia Gandhi’s statement on Sunday that the prime ministerial candidate would be announced at an “opportune time.” Although many leaders see Rahul as the obvious choice, there is no clarity on this issue and his own reluctance could force the leadership to draw up a new plan.

One senior MP summed up the mood: “We have clarity neither on the leadership question nor on issues. We are in for a tough time. If something drastic is not done, the demoralised workers will sit at home.”

Unease among the Lok Sabha MPs has intensified after the Assembly election results. Many are joking if the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would be a better choice to seek a ticket from.

One MP said: “People who know nothing about elections are advising Rahul. There is doom in the next election if the system is not changed.”

One party veteran angrily said that “because of these people, Rahul’s leadership is getting discredited. He said in Jaipur that he will be a judge, not the advocate. He hasn’t been a judge so far. He is surrounded by wrong people. What is the attribute of a leader? Five-six-time Lok Sabha MPs are ignored and sycophants who have nothing to do with people are promoted. One leader who was kept in Rajya Sabha for 24 years was not found fit for a day in the Assembly by the people of Madhya Pradesh. This should open the eyes of the leadership.”

Rahul’s initial moves have disappointed a large number of leaders who feel he is promoting the undeserving. There is also a pent-up feeling against those who have come from outside getting key posts in the Congress. While elections are not a time to address these fundamental issues, party leaders feel Sonia will have to send out positive signals to lift the morale of workers across the country. Unless this happens, the unrest is bound to intensify.