India polls: Gandhis face demoralised party after rout

Indian National Congress (INC) president Sonia Gandhi (left) and vice-president Rahul Gandhi address the media after the India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) set to sweep the Indian elections in New Delhi, India on May 16, 2014. Ind
Indian National Congress (INC) president Sonia Gandhi (left) and vice-president Rahul Gandhi address the media after the India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) set to sweep the Indian elections in New Delhi, India on May 16, 2014. India's ruling Congress party is set to gather Monday, May 19, 2014, in New Delhi to rake over their electoral humiliation, with leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi facing unprecedented pressure over their failed campaign tactics. -- FILE PHOTO: EPA

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's ruling Congress party is set to gather Monday in New Delhi to rake over their electoral humiliation, with leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi facing unprecedented pressure over their failed campaign tactics.

Congress slumped to its worst-ever defeat last week, claiming just 44 seats in the 543-member parliament, as the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power with the first majority in 30 years.

The Indian media swirled with rumours on Monday that the Gandhis, South Asia's famed political dynasty, would offer to step down - but their resignation would almost certainly be rejected by colleagues.

Sonia, the 67-year-old Congress party president, entrusted campaigning to her son and vice president Rahul, whose lacklustre performance failed to convince voters as Congress sought a third term in power.

Speculation mounted that senior Congress figures would call for a greater role in the party for Rahul's younger sister Priyanka who entered campaigning late in the election cycle to more favourable reviews.

"Where does the question of either the Congress president or vice president resigning even arise?" outgoing Congress minister Manish Tiwari told the CNN-IBN channel on Monday.

"It is a collective responsibility for all of us as a whole," he added.

Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmad told AFP that "if they offer to resign, all of us might follow suit."

Congress has ruled for all but 13 years of India's post-independence history and has run the country for the last 10 years at the head of the left-leaning coalition.

Its defeat has been attributed to a sharp economic slowdown, rising food prices and a slew of corruption scandals, as well as Rahul being comprehensively overshadowed by BJP leader Narendra Modi.

Modi assailed the dynastic rule of the Gandhis and tapped into widespread hunger for jobs and development, while offering a message of aspiration and ambition to the young electorate.

"Economic growth and social mobility have radically transformed how younger Indians think and behave," leading historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in Kolkata-based The Telegraph newspaper at the weekend.

"No longer so deferential or unquestioning, they ask for evidence of Rahul Gandhi's own contributions apart from his family lineage. These are few," he concluded.

The Congress Working Committee, the highest decision-making body in the party, will meet at 4pm (1030 GMT) on Monday.