The Congress is working on a three-pronged strategy to fight incumbency and infighting in the February 2007 assembly elections while trying to capitalise on its USP of Manmohan Singh as the prime minister.
Worried that the Akalis' attempt to unite may make their task of renewing their mandate in Punjab difficult, party leaders said that some sitting legislators may be denied tickets to check incumbency and project fresh and young faces in the elections. "About a dozen of our legislators have been holding on to their constituencies for the last two decades, stifling the growth of young leaders," said a senior Congress leader.
The second prong of the strategy is to ensure that the state unit, which is riven by dissensions, projects a show of unity.
Accordingly, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Pradesh Congress Committee Chief SS Dullo have begun to campaign together. Singh's "vikas yatra" is also meant to negate the allegations that the chief minister is inaccessible to the masses as well as his own Congress colleagues.
Janardhan Dwivedi, All India Congress Committee general secretary in charge of Punjab, has already said that the party will go to polls under the combined leadership of Singh and Dullo. This is meant to serve two objectives.
One, according to the procedure followed by the Congress, while its chief minister leads the campaign, the choice of the next chief minister is left to the decision of the legislators in consultation with the High Command.
Secondly, the effort is to ensure that the campaign in Punjab is not reduced into a Singh versus Prakash Singh Badal battle.
"A Singh-vs-Badal battle would allow the Akalis to focus on the incumbency factor which we do not want," said a Congress leader. The fact that the Akalis are trying to unite is also a matter of concern for the party.
The third factor deals with the party's positives. Of this, the installation of Singh as prime minister is considered the most important with the voters of Punjab - a fact that the Congress believes would also help the party fetch some seats in the Malwa region where it had drawn a blank five years back.