The biggest political event of 2007 for the Congress and the UPA are the assembly elections in Punjab, Uttaranchal, Manipur and Uttar Pradesh in the first half of the year and in Goa and Gujarat in the second half, with the possibility of mid-term polls in Jharkhand and Karnataka.
The election results in Congress-ruled Punjab, Manipur and Goa and Samajwadi Party-ruled UP would determine the balance of forces in the electoral college (consisting of MPs and legislators) which will elect a new President in the middle of the year.
At the same time, these developments, alongwith the poll outcome in UP and BJP-ruled Gujarat, are expected to have an impact on the country's politics and the health of the UPA government now into its third year in office at the Centre.
The BJP is also in a coalition with the JD(S) in Karnataka while the UPA backs the Madhu Koda government in Jharkhand.
"The biggest political event of the year will be the state polls, particularly in UP," said political scientist Manoranjan Mohanty. But his assessment is based on the impact of the polls on the polity and not in relation to the Presidential polls.
"That (the presidential election) will not be a major problem," he said. He was more concerned with the impact of the BJP's aggressive Hindutva campaign, the fragmentation of parties, the segmentation of vote banks on the political scenario in UP — and perhaps the country. The BJP's success in UP had helped it coming to power at the Centre.
The Congress was in power in Lucknow two decades back, losing, over the years, its Dalit, Muslim and upper caste supporters to the Bahujan Samaj Party, the SP and the BJP.
Congress spokesman Satyavrat Chaturvedi, in fact, saw the election of the new President — and not the state polls — as the "biggest political event" of 2007.
According to Chaturvedi: "Elections in states come and go. Every year, one or the other state heads for elections. This time, there will be elections in four states in the next four months."
On the face of it, in 2007, the Congress has a long list of daunting tasks: find its feet in UP, duck incumbency in Congress-ruled states, defeat the BJP in Gujarat, reclaim Karnataka if the Kumaraswamy government falls and hold its UPA allies together following the Telangana Rashtra Samiti's departure, the MDMK's split and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren's conviction.
Managing the Left partners, who raise the ante on economic issues, is part of "coalition politics" in Chaturvedi's words.
The task also includes putting its own candidate in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
While the NDA has already offered support to incumbent APJ Abdul Kalam for a second term, the UPA, according to a Congress leader, prefers a Dalit in the constitutional office.
Both Chaturvedi and Mohanty agree that the Congress' "biggest challenge" in 2007 is to address the problems of poverty, agrarian distress and farmers suicides. "It is to eradicate poverty, ensure overall development, specially in dealing with the problems of agriculture and farmers," said the Congress leader.
Mohanty called for a change in approach and focus. "Merely focusing on the growth rate and raising foreign investments is not enough. The farmers' question is the biggest challenge for the Congress. Agrarian crisis manifests itself in several forms, including farmers' suicides and agricultural productivity," he said.
He noted that since the bulk of the rural poor comprises minorities, Dalits and tribals, the Congress' failure to address their concerns has been eroding its credibility in many parts of the country.
"The party's biggest threat in the year can be its inability to implement the Common Minimum Programme. The National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme the party talks about is only a small part of the CMP," Mohanty said.
Congressmen like Parliamentary Affairs Minister PR Dasmunsi may not perhaps share Mohanty's views. The Minister has claimed that the UPA government has fulfilled more than one-third of its promises in the CMP by now and intends to complete 75 per cent of its CMP agenda by the end of the Budget session in May 2007.
Email Saroj Nagi: snagi @hindustantimes.com