Indian Congress party official sounds alarm on party's fate

FILE - In this Wednesday, July 26, 2006, file photo, Indian Youth Congress President Ashok Tanwar, right, greets Congress party President Sonia Gandhi at a three day national training conference of congress party district presidents, in New Delhi, India. India's main opposition Congress party appears to be drifting rudderless as it faces a crucial political test in two key state elections in October, 2019, after a severe drubbing at the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party in the May national elections. Tanwar, Haryana state party chief where voting will be held on Oct. 21, quit following difference with party’s leadership over choice of candidates for voting districts. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)

A senior leader of India's main opposition Congress party says the party's struggles are at the point that it may not be able to win key upcoming state elections or ensure its own future

NEW DELHI — A senior leader of India's main opposition Congress party says its struggles are at the point that it may not be able to win key upcoming state elections or ensure its own future.

The party is facing attrition because it is taking too long to come to terms with its defeat in May national elections, former External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters late Monday.

Congress won only 52 of 542 parliamentary seats in the polls, compared to 303 won by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

The party faces crucial tests in Oct. 21 state elections in Haryana in the north and Maharashtra in the west.

Party president Rahul Gandhi resigned after the May defeat. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, stepped in on an interim basis.

The party's chief in Haryana quit following a difference with the party's leadership over a choice of candidates. Ashok Tanwar was among the party's main campaigners in the party's bid to wrest power from the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state.

A revolt also is brewing in Maharashtra.

Sanjay Nirupam, a key state leader there, threatened to quit the party after his recommendations for its nominees were rejected by the party leadership.

An Uttar Pradesh state lawmaker, Aditi Singh, also seemed to join the revolt by staying away from a street march held by Priyanka Gandhi, a party general secretary and daughter of Sonia Gandhi, in the family's stronghold of Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh.

A top party leader and former finance minister, P. Chidambaram, has been arrested by federal investigators for alleged economic offenses, adding to the party's woes.

On Monday, Khurshid said Rahul Gandhi left in a huff after the party's defeat in national elections, and that his mother was appointed interim president in August until a new president is chosen by the party, possibly after the October state elections.

"We haven't really got together to analyze why we got defeated. Our biggest problem is our leader has walked away," Khurshid said, adding that Rahul Gandhi still retains the allegiance of the party.

"It's kind of left a vacuum," Khurshid said. "Sonia Gandhi stepped in, but there is more than an indication that she is treating herself as a stop-gap arrangement. I wish it wasn't so."

Rahul Gandhi's family, starting with his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, has produced three prime ministers. Two of them — his grandmother Indira Gandhi and his father, Rajiv Gandhi — were assassinated in office.

Rahul Gandhi lost his own seat, long a Congress party bastion, in Uttar Pradesh in the recent elections. However, he won a seat from another constituency in southern India.

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This story has been corrected to show that the state in paragraph 9 is Uttar Pradesh, not Haryana.

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