Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Defence Minister A K Antony and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi at the inaugural session of the party's three-day Chintan Shivir brainstorming camp in Jaipur on Friday. (PTI photo)
With the Lok Sabha polls just a little more than a year away, Congress President Sonia Gandhi today said party's revival in weak states should not not be compromised at the altar of alliance politics.
In a candid admission in her opening speech at the 2-day "Chintan Shivir" (brainstorming conclave) that Congress was facing "increased competition and inroads" into its traditional base, she said "unity and discipline" was the need of the hour in the party.
She formed five separate groups, including one on "emerging political challenges" headed by A K Antony in which P Chidamaram is a participant, for deeper discussion.
Ahead of the start of the start of the conclave, there was a clamour from senior leaders for Rahul Gandhi to play a larger role in the organisation.
Seeking "free, fearless and frank views" from the participants, Gandhi surprisingly made a reference to the "growing educated and middle classes", an apparent message to the party to woo them.
Gandhi, who is also the Chairperson of UPA, made it clear that Congress has to "strike a balance" between respecting alliances where it has tied up with other parties and "ensuring that the partys rejuvenation is not compromised".
"In states in which we are in alliance we have to strike a balance between respecting these alliances and ensuring that the party"s rejuvenation inon is not not compromised," Gandhi said.
"We must admit that we now face increased competition and inroads have been made into our traditional support bases.
There are some states, where we have been out of power for too long and, although I too believe that being in power is not the sole purpose of political activities, this does have an adverse impact on our morale and organisation ability," she said.
Gandhi's remarks on rejuvenation of the party has come at a time when nine assembly elections are scheduled during the current year, which will be followed by Lok Sabha polls in the middle of 2014.
The Congress had lost power in major states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu for several years. In West Bengal, it was out of power for more than three decades though it was in the ministry of Mamata Banerjee for a brief while. It is more than four decades since it lost power in Tamil Nadu.
In her speech, the Congress President did not take the name of any political party, including the BJP, or the recent electoral defeat in Gujarat.
Reflecting his growing influence and stature in the party, the conclave saw praise for Rahul Gandhi from senior leaders including Ambika Soni, who said the meet would get a "message" from the young leader.
On Rahul insistance, a lions share has been given to Youth Congress and NSUI office-bearers at the strategy meet for participation.
Leaders including Digivijay Singh, Rajiv Shukla and Salman Khurshid, sought a "larger and predominant role" for Rahul. Sachin Pilot, however, felt that the young leader should not be pressurised.
In her five-page speech, Gandhis stress was on the party to get its act together.
Turning to "pressing organisational matters", she posed the question "Is it not the case that we have squandered many opportunities that people are willing to give us simply because we have been unable to function as a disciplined and united team".
Flagging the need to develop leadership at all levels, Gandhi said, "Performance, not patronage, must be the ladder to advancement in the part.
"We must build leadership at all levels, a leadership that is proactive and that is not afraid of moving forward, and taking up issues and programmes which highlight the concerns and aspirations of the people".
The Congress President underlined the need for coming together of party men by setting aside personal ambitions and egos, and working cohesively in states, "where we are out of power especially so that the party triumphs".
"Unity will not come from pious declarations of intent.
It has to come from within. Unity is the cry of each and every worker of our great organisation and it is our sacred duty to respond to it," she said.
Seeking free, fearless and frank views from the participants, Gandhi asked them to find responses when people are expecting much more from political parties.
"We cannot allow our growing educated and middle classes to be disillusioned and alienated from the political process..we are here on serious business, which will determine our futurewe must go with a clear and unified sense of purpose," she said.