Updated: 12/21/2013 23:06 | By Agence France-Presse

India's Gandhi admits ruling party stumbled in polls

India's ruling Congress' scion, Rahul Gandhi, tipped to be named the party's candidate for premier next month, admitted Saturday the party stumbled badly in recent state polls but vowed to stage a comeback.

India's Gandhi admits ruling party stumbled in polls

Rahul Gandhi addresses the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi on December 21, 2013

A stunning performance by an upstart anti-corruption party helped topple Congress in elections to New Delhi's state assembly earlier this month, only months before the country goes to the polls in general elections.

Congress, in power at national level for a decade, also lost in three other state assembly contests in a devastating blow ahead of the May election. 

"We didn't really hit a six in the last election," Gandhi, using a cricket expression, told top Indian business leaders at a conference.

"We didn't do as well as we expected, but we will renew ourselves and will fight strong and confidently," Gandhi said.

In his first major speech since the party's polling rout, Gandhi said endemic corruption was "bleeding the people" while adding the country urgently needed to get back on a high-growth trajectory. 

"Poverty cannot be fought without growth -- there is no confusion in my mind. There is a business engine and the people have to empower the business engine," he said.

Meanwhile, in a shake-up ahead of the elections, Congress environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan resigned on Saturday.

The Indian media reported she was going to be drafted into working for the Congress party during the elections.

Oil minister M. Veerappa Moily was given the extra responsibility of the environment ministry, a government statement said.

Indian media have reported Gandhi, 43, whose family has given India three prime ministers, could be named the party's official candidate during a Congress meeting in mid-January.

The move would pit Gandhi against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi who has been named the prime ministerial candidate for the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi has become a hero of middle-class India, hailed as a business-friendly moderniser who could revive a sharply slowing economy.

But hia ability to erase memories of deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2002 after he became Gujarat chief minister remain an issue for many. 

There are also doubts about Gandhi's ability and desire for the job of prime minister.

Opinion surveys point to a fractured election outcome in which smaller regional parties with differing agendas and a reliance on Muslims and other religious minorities for support could end up with an upper hand.

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