With two years left for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress is likely to hold a brainstorming session after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections and the
budget session of Parliament which gets over in May.
This would synchronize with the completion of three years of the multi-party coalition led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The last two brainstorming conclaves took place at Pachmarhi in 1998 and at Shimla in 2003 where the Congress grudgingly accepted the inevitability of
AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh has already suggested that the party leadership should hold a brainstorming session to take stock of its experiment
of leading a coalition, assess its gains and losses from it and re-examine the entire issue of pre-poll alliances.
Much like the Pachmarhi and the Shimla conclaves which took place in the backdrop of the party's electoral defeats, the call for yet another brainstorming
session was first articulated in October-November 2006 when the Congress lost the Koderma byelection in Jharkhand, failed to field a common candidate in Bihar
and saw the BJP-NDA recovering ground in the civic polls in Uttar Pradesh.
The call is now been renewed in the backdrop of the BJP-Shiv Sena's revival during the corporation elections in Maharashtra and the Congress' own poor
performance in these polls. This is despite the fact that the Shiv Sena was weakened by its split and the BJP was in disarray following the death of Pramod
Mahajan, a senior leader.
A section of the Congress believes that its growth is being hampered not so much by the saffron forces but by its own alliance partners and regional parties. The Congress has not been able to find its feet in states like Tamil Nadu, Bihar, West Bengal or UP because of the domination of forces like the DMK, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Communists (all allies) and the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party respectively.
At present, the party is caught in a vicious circle where it has to bank on a coalition since it does not have much of a presence in UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and
West Bengal which together account for 200 Lok Sabha seats.
It cannot hope to revitalise itself in these states unless its allies and other regional parties like the RJD, the SP and the BSP show a decline. These
parties had whisked away the Congress' Muslim and Dalit base, while the BJP had walked away with the Brahmin vote. In fact, some of these parties derive
their strength and relevance from BJP's presence.
At the Pachmarhi conclave in September 1998, the Congress had said that coalitions would be considered only when it was absolutely necessary and that too on the basis of an agreed programme which does not weaken its ideology or compromise its basic ideology.
This stand was modified at the Shimla conclave in July 2003. During this session, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said that she had an open mind on coalitions
since the prevailing political situation made it incumbent on all secular forces to fight communalism, fundamentalism and the BJP.
Congress leaders like Ashok Gehlot and Digvijay Singh are among those who are against the idea of forging pre-poll alliances. And though no one is openly
talking about it, leaders have started saying privately that it is time they have a brainstorming session to prepare itself for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. More so, as the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government will complete three years in office in May.