Indian media: 'Defending' Rahul Gandhi

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi led his party's campaign in the general election Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi led his party's campaign in the general election

Indian papers highlight the ruling Congress' attempt to "defend" its vice-president Rahul Gandhi after exit polls predicted a "massive defeat" for the party in the general election.

Most exit polls say the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies are likely to form the next government under the leadership of Narendra Modi.

A party or a coalition needs 272 MPs to form a government. However, analysts say these polls have often been wrong in the past.

Mr Gandhi led his party's campaign in the election. Observers say he may be asked some tough questions if the party loses badly.

But Congress leaders have defended Mr Gandhi ahead of the results.

Jairam Ramesh, Salman Khurshid and Kamal Nath - all ministers in the outgoing government - tried to dissociate Mr Gandhi from the party's performance in the polls on Tuesday.

Mr Gandhi was "never" part of the government and thus could not be held accountable for the results, they said.

"Rahul Gandhi was never part of the government. Election results are a reflection of the people's perception about the government's functioning.... The government was not able to convey to the people about its programmes and all the good work it was doing," the Hindustan Times quotes Mr Nath as saying.

Newspapers are capturing the story in front-page headlines.

"Ahead of results Cong moves to firewall Rahul," reads The Times of India headline.

The Tribune says: "Exit poll drubbing: Cong rushes to defend Rahul."

The paper adds that Mr Nath's statement "crudely implies that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as leader of the government could not communicate the programmes well".

"Rahul, though never officially anointed PM candidate, was the face of the party in the campaign, and Congressmen are keen to see that a failure at the hustings does not dim the allure of a family that has given India three prime ministers," the Hindustan Times adds.

Praise for PM

Meanwhile, Mr Singh said goodbye to his staff during a farewell hosted for him on Tuesday, reports the DNA newspaper.

Mr Singh, who has been PM since 2004, received a "standing ovation" by around 110 staff members at his office, it adds.

He had announced his decision to not stand for a third term in January.

And finally, the prime minister has received some rare praise from senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley who complimented Mr Singh's "integrity" and called him a "wise man" in a blog post, reports The Times of India.

However, Mr Jaitley also criticised Mr Singh for not being a strong leader, the paper added.

"He will remain an elder statesman and a man of credibility to guide the nation. Only if he had stood up at the right time and disagreed he would have been regarded with still a greater honour," Mr Jaitley wrote.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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