In the first major poll exercise after the party's drubbing in recent Assembly elections, Rahul Gandhi today held a strategy session with top leaders and Chief Ministers of 12 Congress-ruled states to make the party fighting fit for the Lok Sabha polls.
The day-long exercise that commenced in the morning saw full attendance of Congress Chief Ministers along with senior leaders A K Antony, Sushilkumar Shinde, P Chidambaram, Ahmed Patel, Jairam Ramesh, Digvijay Singh, Janardan Dwivedi, Kapil Sibal and K B Thomas.
Having lost the polls in Delhi and Rajasthan, Congress is currently in power in 12 states--- Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala and Meghalaya.
With the election defeats rankling in memory, the party is keen to work out the strategy to retain the states where it is in power at present as there seems little possibility of it doing very well in the states already ruled by BJP as the Assembly elections showed.
While BJP bettered its performance in Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Madhya Pradesh, it managed to retain Chhattisgarh despite Congress doing well in Bastar riding over a sympathy wave after the Maoist massacre of its leadership.
The margin with which BJP wrested power from Congress in Rajasthan has also come a surprise for Congress. In Delhi while BJP managed to somewhat weather the AAP storm, Congress was virtually wiped out.
So "home is where we gather grace" seems to be mantra of the meeting as the party is keen to retain Congress-ruled states. The role of Chief Ministers like Virbhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh and Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana could be important as such.
The meeting being held at 15, Rakabganj Road, also known as Congress War Room, to work out poll strategies will discuss the future course for the party in the wake of the passage of Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill.
The issue of price rise and steps to arrest it will be taken up in detail at the conclave which will also discuss the food security issue.
Party-ruled Haryana and Uttarakhand were among the first to launch the scheme, which UPA believes is a gamechanger for 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Immediately after the results of the Assembly elections in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were out, Congress President Sonia Gandhi had listed price rise as an issue that could have led to the rout of the party in these states.
Rahul Gandhi has been raising the issue of corruption frequently in his meetings at the party fora as well his interactions and public fora.
At the FICCI meeting on December 21, Gandhi had said that corruption is the "biggest issue bleeding people dry".
Flagging the concerns over price rise, he had said beating inflation was the top priority.
The conclave of the Chief Ministers comes before the January 17 AICC meeting in which the party will discuss its future strategy amid heightened speculation that Gandhi could be named party's prime ministerial candidate for the next Lok Sabha polls during that session.
Besides the Chief Ministers and central leaders, today's meeting is also being attended by all AICC General Secretary incharges of the states like Ambika Soni (Uttarakhand), Shakeel Ahmed (Haryana), Luizinho Faleiro, who is the in- charge of north eastern states and others.
Rahul Gandhi's role in party affairs has substantially increased after he was made the party Vice President during the Congress Chintan Shivir in January this year.
Before he was made party Vice President, Gandhi was in November last year named as the Chairman of Congress' election committee for 2014 Lok Sabha polls in a clear move that he will be the face of Congress in the general elections.
The chorus to project him as the PM candidate has grown louder within the party notwithstanding the successive defeats Congress courted in state elections where he played a key role.
Rahul Gandhi chairing this meeting of Chief Ministers to work out a strategy for the Lok Sabha polls is a further indication of the centrality of his role in Congress politics ahead of the general elections.