With just a little more than a year left for the next Lok Sabha polls, Congress may be in for a hard grind electorally next year when major states go to polls with BJP on a high after Narendra Modi's hat-trick in Gujarat.
It has been another roller coaster year in 2012 for the Congress heading the UPA government with a major ally Trinamool Congress quitting the central coalition and equally important key outside supporters Samajwadi Party and BSP showing unease.
But for all their unease, the two parties from Uttar Pradesh have come to the aid of the government in Parliament where and when it matters most — willing to strike, but afraid to wound.
On top of it, things also appear to be looking up for the Congress with government in a position to shed its image of policy paralysis and taking some hard decisions on the reforms front.
The possible emergence of Modi as BJP's prime ministerial candidate to be pitted against Rahul Gandhi in the next Lok Sabha elections in 2014 is said to be viewed by Congress as both a challenge and an opportunity.
A section in the Congress believes that Modi could be a polarising figure and unite the Muslims behind the party in a national election. But there is an equal concern that BJP, which suffers from leadership squabbles, could remain united behind Modi and present a tough challenge.
The upcoming year could witness a host of regional parties posing another challenge through a proposed Federal Front with a view to bring together non-Congress, non-BJP parties.
Amid talk that Parliament polls could be a Rahul vs Modi tussle, the Congress has to get its act together as during the year gone by it has been beset with problems and battered by one controversy after another.
Apart from Trinamool Congress, Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) and Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM-one member parties in the Lok Sabha — too have quit UPA.
In the coming year, Assembly elections will be held in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Karnataka, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland.
A section in Congress is already talking of the possibility of a United Front-type experiment again being witnessed at the Centre after the next Lok Sabha polls.
This section feels that this time the Congress should, however, participate in the government and not support it from outside as was done in the past.
Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar, a keen analyst of the political scene, visualises formation of a UPA-III in the year ahead with the realignment of secular forces and "some kind of inside or outside support" from the Left parties and the JD(U).
He feels that Modi's hat-trick in Gujarat could be of advantage to UPA in 2014 as the development is bound to deepen the divide inside the BJP itself and weaken the NDA as he attempts to take over the leadership.
Noting that the year gone by has established the unity of the Congress as also solidarity of the UPA, Aiyar shares the optimism of many a faithful that the worst is over for the Congress.
Like Aiyar, many a party man feel that the Congress could end 2012 with much more optimism than in 2011 with the civil society movement seemingly dissipated with divisions cropping up.
The partymen insist that the defeat of the opposition-sponsored motions against FDI in retail was no mean achievement and so was the passage of the Banking bill.
In the year gone by, the state polls saw the Congress being relegated to the fourth position in Uttar Pradesh despite Rahul Gandhi personally leading the charge.
This was the biggest setback for the ruling party after coming to power at the Centre for the second time in 2009.
There was nothing to write home about Congress in a host of other state polls