On the Congress' 121st Foundation Day on December 28, the grand old party faces the same old problems. It continues to grope for a magic formula to help it rebuild its base in UP and Bihar and set the party organisation in order in states headed for assembly polls early next year.
Can development planks overcome social cleavages? Will Rahul Gandhi succeed in transforming the party's face in UP and elsewhere? Is coalition politics here to stay or will the party continue to play second fiddle to regional satraps like Bihar's Lalu Yadav and Tamil Nadu's M Karunanidhi?
The imponderables are almost endless. The party hasn't smelled power in UP and Bihar for almost two decades. And its electoral fortunes remain tied to the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu. In West Bengal, the scenario is no different: the Left's uninterrupted stint in governance showing no sign of abating early. In all, these states account for 201 Lok Sabha seats out of a total of 543.
So, in the 122nd year of its existence in 2007 - and exactly three years since Sonia called for a compact alliance against the BJP-NDA - the Congress would have no option but to keep honing its skills in managing coalitions. Having held power at the Centre for over two years without a major hiccup, the Congress' main task will be to keep intact the UPA caravan while pursuing its objective of reclaiming its base which is now being controlled by some of its allies.
"A coalition government can lead to a greater consensus on important issues and be more representative. However, the party must continue to strengthen its base and build a strong and dedicated cadre in each and every state. This can only happen if we learn to respect our grass-root workers," Congress president Sonia Gandhi said in her "Letter to Congress Workers" in the latest issue of the organisation's in-house journal, Congress Sandesh. But conscious of the infighting in the ranks, she urged Congress workers to set aside their personal agendas and go to the masses as a cohesive and organised fighting force to ensure the party's victory in the forthcoming assembly polls.
The task, however, would not be easy as Congress workers go to solicit votes in Punjab, Uttaranchal, Manipur, Goa and Uttar Pradesh. There is concern about the increasing prices of essential commodities like atta, pulses, wheat and edible oils though the Centre has reduced the prices of petrol and diesel. There is also the problem of agrarian distress and farmers' suicides.
On the brighter side, the Congress worker would find his talking points in Sonia's message: the Congress-led UPA government, which completed half of its five year term in November, had fulfilled several election promises, including strengthening the country's secular foundations, launching the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, adopting several path breaking legislations like the right to information and OBC quota in education. "More remains to be done and will get done," Sonia promised in her write up.
On Thursday, at a brief function at the decked-up Congress headquarters on Thursday, Sonia unfurled the Congress flag in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, several Union Ministers and party leaders and joined the Seva Dal activists in singing the national song Vande Mataram.
When the function ended, she had a short interaction with her colleagues. Then she and the PM walked up to the media enclosure, extended their greetings for the new year to the waiting scribes and left without giving them a quote for the day.