Battered by a series of corruption scandals and allegations of mis-governance, the Congress faces an uphill task of regaining the lost ground in the remaining one year before the 2014 polls with pro-reform and social welfare measures apart from addressing the concerns of middle class, which had drifted away from it in the recent past.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit and DPCC president JP Agarwal during the party's rally at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. (Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times)
The passage of social security bills – food security and land acquisition – is the essential challenge before the Congress leadership in the last year. It was the rural employment guarantee programme that helped the party to retain power in 2009 elections.
“These bills are pro-poor and pro-farmer and important not only for Congress but entire country,” senior party leader Shakeel Ahmed said.
Battling middle class negativity is another challenge. Over the past two years, the middle class has displayed its anguish against the government by repeatedly taking to the streets.
Even Congress president Sonia Gandhi has admitted that her party’s revival largely depends on addressing the disenchantment of the middle class.
The Congress also needs to present a picture of cohesion between the government and the party due to the existence of multiple voices that often projected a sign of drift or discordance in the UPA.
The party had to come on record several times to dismiss suggestions – mainly from its leaders -- of a rift between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying the two shared a “perfect and unique relationship” despite “disagreements” on some issues.
Congress leaders, including Gandhi, had to repeat the party position more than once that there is no vacancy at the top and Singh would continue to be the PM till 2014.
Outspoken Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh’s statement that Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi “dual power centre” experiment too created ripples in the party, which later clarified that the model has been successful and could continue in future also.
Even as the power sharing arrangement is still being debated, the third power centre has emerged in the Congress with the anointment of Rahul Gandhi as the party vice-president in January this year.
The party has also formally announced that Rahul will be its face of the 2014 poll campaign.
But before that, the Congress party’s strength would be tested in the assembly elections in four important states – Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan – where it would be in direct confrontation with the BJP.
Also, the exit of two key allies -- Trinamool Congress and DMK -- during the past one year has put a big question mark on the future of the UPA and the ability of the Congress to keep its flock together or make new friends.
Amid the buzz of its increasing bonhomie with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, the Congress stated that it has extended a hand of friendship to like-minded parties.
“You do not make appeal to friends. You extend a hand and that is reciprocated from the other side. Our hand has been extended,” party spokesman Raj Babbar said.
It shares a love-hate relationship with the NCP.
On the eve of the UPA’s ninth year in power, NCP general secretary DP Tripathi attacked the Congress for “failure to reciprocate his party’s support and friendship”.
On the economic front, the biggest challenge before the Congress is to battle the perception of policy paralysis.
Some of its pro-reform such as pension fund bill and amendments to insurance are held up for a long time now.