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Voices of rebellion grow louder in Cong

Manmohan Singh greets President Pranab Mukherjee on his birthday at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Dec. 11: The Congress leadership’s repeated assertions that Manmohan Singh would remain Prime Minister till the 2014 elections have not settled the argument within the party and the unrest among its Lok Sabha members has now grown to an alarming level.

A large number of MPs argued in private that the party would “sink” unless drastic changes were made. Replace Manmohan “right now” invariably crops up as a key suggestion.

Asked why they were not coming out openly, one MP told The Telegraph: “We don’t have that freedom and neither Sonia Gandhi, nor Rahul Gandhi would appreciate such a rebellion. But we are definitely going to tell them in private.”

So high is the level of anxiety among the MPs that one leader said: “What is the option before us? We don’t have talking points. Can I tell my voters Manmohan Singh would be the next Prime Minister and they should support him? The situation in 2009 was different. We will be reduced to a two-digit tally in the next Lok Sabha if we don’t create a package to offer before the public.”

Another MP, who praised Manmohan as “a great person”, said the “political reality” requires a change. “He should understand this and step aside.”

Some members, angry with the government’s performance, endorse the demand for a change at the helm. “Who will take the responsibility for the perceived anti-Congress wave?” one of them said. “The public anger was triggered by corruption and inflation. And this atmosphere has continued for far too long. We are nowhere, neither with the corporate sector which wants reforms, nor with the poor.”

Another MP said: “The problem is not Narendra Modi or Arvind Kejriwal; the problem is Manmohan.”

Although it is unlikely these sentiments will develop into a rebellion or public outcry against Manmohan, Congress strategy sessions will have to grapple with this question in the coming days. These MPs don’t believe it is too late to make a change and argue that five months are a long time in politics. Asked for alternative choices, most of them said anybody would do better as the message of drastic change had to reach demoralised workers.

Some MPs wanted Rahul to take over, saying there was no point in creating a new leadership after investing so much in him. “We may still lose, but the leadership question will be settled once and for all. And workers won’t come out to fight under anybody’s leadership. Only Rahul can galvanise the workers,” said an MP, who is also an AICC office bearer.

Some Rahul aides argued that the Congress vice-president did not have full freedom and the poor Assembly poll results were the outcome of multiple authorities within the party.

The cry for change has come amid suggestions from some veterans who feel the party need not declare its prime ministerial candidate. They say the Congress should not fall into the BJP’s trap and turn the next general election into a presidential-type contest.

These leaders say the election should be fought under Rahul’s leadership without projecting him as the party’s candidate for Prime Minister.