Former Kerala minister TH Mustafa was on Thursday suspended from Congress for calling Rahul Gandhi a "joker" and saying he should be removed if he does not resign in the backdrop of the party's debacle in the Lok Sabha polls.
As the remark by Mustafa fuelled a controversy with some party leaders condemning it, a meeting of the KPCC held here to review the election performance of the party and the UDF led by it in the state felt the Congress leader had committed "a serious mistake" by making adverse comments againt Rahul.
Mustafa had prima facie breached the organisational discipline and decorum and he was being suspended from the primary membership, pending futher inquiry into his conduct, KPCC President V M Sudheeran said briefing reporters on the deliberations at the meet.
He said the party at the national and state level had taken a clear position that individual leaders should not be held responsible for the defeat.
Mustafa, who was a minister in the K Karunakaran Ministry in the early 1990s, had told a news conference in Kochi yesterday that Rahul depended on a coterie close to him during the campaign and said "acting like a joker" would not help in elections.
"He (Rahul) should resign from the party. He should not continue. If he doesn't resign voluntarily, he should be removed. He acted like a joker(during the poll campaign)....," Mustafa had said.
Taking exception to the remark, the Youth Congress state President Dean Kuriakose raised the issue at the meeting and demanded expulsion of Mustafa from the party for his fulmination at the central leadership.
The Congress and its UDF allies have done comparatively well in Kerala bagging 12 of the 20 seats at stake, but the party suffered some glaring losses with the LDF wresting its traditional strongholds like Idukki and Chalakkudi.
Though a KPCC Executive member, Mustafa, known for his penchant for targeting leaders in the state, did not turn up at the meeting today, sources said.
Some of those who spoke at the executive also made critical comments against the central leadership, without naming Rahul or any other top leaders, party sources said.
However, most senior leaders held that it would be inappropriate to put the entire blame on any particular leader.
In Nagpur, senior Congress leader and former union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar disagreed with Mustafa's assessment.
"I do not agree with what a senior Kerala leader said about Rahul," he said.
On change of party leadership, Aiyar said, "Congress had (fared) badly previously in regimes of prime ministers Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and also under P V Narasimha Rao. But at no time did the question of change of leadership crop up".
Backing Sonia and Rahul, Aiyar questioned whether parties like SP, BSP, who too got bruised in polls, have changed their top leadership?
"There is no question of changing Congress leadership of Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh, BSP supremo Mayawati and Akali Dal chief Parkash Singh Badal's party also fared poorly.
"But have these leaders quit or is there any demand for their removal," Aiyar asked.
Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi condemned the remarks and said they were made out of frustration.
Another Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal sidestepped Mustafa's comment and asked party leaders to raise issues internally.
Former Minority Affairs Minister K Rehman Khan also said the issues should be raised in the party forum.
"Who is responsible and what has happened is a matter to be investigated. Congress president and Vice President have said that they have taken the responsibility. It does not mean that you go on criticizing them. Going public with your views is against party discipline," he said.