An unsmiling Sonia Gandhi, speaking at a mammoth two-and-half hour long meeting of the Congress Working Committee, the party's highest decision-making forum, described the Congress electoral drubbing as "nirashajanak (disappointing)".

"I feel that the changes I planned failed to strengthen the party,  or we would not have had to face such a situation. I accept responsibility for the defeat and I volunteer to step down," party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi quoted Sonia Gandhi as telling the CWC.

The Congress got its lowest ever tally of 44 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. She said it was time the Congress accepted its "shortcomings" both in the party and government.

"Maybe we could not do as much as should have been done... Despite our good work and policies, it failed to have the desired effect on the people. It is time we reflect on all this and do the changes that are necessary."

Sonia Gandhi also termed the "polarization" in the country due to the BJP campaign as "worrisome". Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi is to be the next Prime Minister.

"Rahul said he felt there is lack of accountability in the party, and that he could not fulfill the expectations the party had from him... He said he would start the tradition of accountability in the party, and offered to resign," Dwivedi told reporters.

At the CWC, which was attended by 38 members, outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said price rise and corruption were the issues on which the UPA government failed to communicate with the people.

Dwivedi quoted Singh as saying: "I take responsibility for the shortcomings of my government."

"We were not able to communicate satisfactorily with the people on the issues of price rise and corruption, and the situations that arose because of it," Singh said.

He was full of praise for both Gandhis. "The work and efforts you both put, the support you gave to run the government was extraordinary," Singh said.

Dwivedi also said both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi appreciated the way Manmohan Singh led the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for 10 years.

According to party sources, almost one-third of the time of the meeting was taken up by the members urging Sonia and Rahul Gandhi not to press their resignations.

A party leader said: "Many members said the party was not able to properly communicate with people. Rahul Gandhi is likely to be given more free hand in organisational affairs in the coming days."

After the results were announced on May 16, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi owned up responsibility for the party's performance. Party leader Oscar Fernandes said: "There is no question of retreat. We will fight."


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