The Maoists wiping out the top leadership of the Chhattisgarh Congress is a "setback" but the party is "ready to face any challenge" in the poll-bound state, Congress party leaders say.
"We are ready for any challenge. The Congress has a tradition of making sacrifices for the cause of the nation," Congress general secretary in-charge of Chhattisgarh BK Hari Prasad said.
Chhattisgarh, which was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, will witness assembly polls by year-end along with Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan, where the Congress would be locked in a direct fight with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP currently rules the state under chief minister Raman Singh.
The Congress is livid after its state unit chief, Nand Kumar Patel, along with party legislator and Salwa Judum founder Mahendra Karma and 22 other leaders, besides four policemen, were killed when a large number of Maoists ambushed a party convoy in Sukma district May 25.
Senior party leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief ministser VC Shukla was severely injured and is battling for life in a super-speciality hospital in Gurgaon.
According to informed sources, the challenge for the Congress, which was gaining ground over the past few months through its outreach programmes and "Parivartan Yatras", is to soon appoint a new state unit chief and give a new direction to the demoralised workers.
"We will take it forward. There is no dearth of leaders in the Congress," Hari Prasad said.
Local Congress leaders described the killings as a "serious setback" but vowed the "show will go on" and the "sacrifices would not go in vain."
"It is a serious setback. It will take us a while to recover from the shock but the sacrifice will not go in vain," Congress Legislative Party leader in Chhattisgarh Assembly Ravindra Choubey said.
"A new strategy will have to be worked out for the assembly polls. The people are with us and they are very angry with the BJP government," said Choubey, who represents the Saja assembly constituency.
According to local Congress leaders, the party was getting its act together in every assembly constituency down to the booth level.
"We had started Parivartan Yatras in April and have covered more than half the assembly constituencies," Congress legislator from Palari constituency Shiv Kumar Dahariya said.
"The success of our rallies had put the BJP on the backfoot and forced it to launch a Vikas Yatra last month which was supported by the government machinery," he added.
Congress leaders speak of a BJP-Maoist nexus in the Bastar region as the party is wary of the Congress gaining ground there.
"The BJP rigged the 2008 polls in rural areas of Bastar where polling suddenly shot up from 20-25% to over 80%," said a local Congress leader.
According to local Congress leaders, in 2008 the Congress had a lead in other regions but lost as the BJP swept the Bastar area, winning 11 of its 12 assembly seats.
The BJP has 49 seats in the 91-member house, followed by 38 of the Congress, two of the BSP and one nominated member. One seat is vacant.