New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) Keen to put its house in order in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh after the assembly poll debacle, the Congress leadership is mulling organisational changes in the two states and contemplating ways to energise workers for upcoming electoral battles in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka.
Congress sources said party president Sonia Gandhi was taking feedback from leaders in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to galvanise the party but had not yet decided on a change of guard in the two states.
Both Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh and Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi have offered to resign, taking moral responsibility for the party's poor performance in the assembly polls earlier this year. While the Congress failed to return to power in Punjab, it barely managed to improve its tally in the Uttar Pradesh assembly.
The two states together have 93 MPs in the Lok Sabha.
Congress sources said detractors of Amarinder Singh have started making demands for his replacement with "a younger and more accessible" leader. Many of them have met party president Sonia Gandhi and told her that the party needed a leader who can protest on the streets in the face of victimisation of party workers.
Pressing for a younger leader, some Congress members have also told the party's national leadership that Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, 49, had emerged as a key strategist of the SAD.
"A sizable percentage of voters in Punjab is young. We need a young leader to take on the Akali Dal. We have to work on rebuilding our base, particularly among the Dalits and minorities in the state," a party leader said on condition of anonymity.
However, supporters of Amarinder Singh have told the leadership that he remains the best bet to take on the Akali Dal.
Party MP Partap Singh Bajwa and former MP Jagmeet Singh Brar are being mentioned in party circles as possible replacements of Amarinder Singh if the central leadership decides to effect a change. The Congress has named Sunil Jhakhar as the new leader of the legislature party in the state.
Sonia Gandhi has also been getting feedback from the MPs of Uttar Pradesh, some of whom have complained about the choice of candidates for the seats falling under their parliamentary constituencies.
Party sources said a meeting of party MPs from Uttar Pradesh, scheduled for March 30, was deferred apparently due to fear that the event may turn out to be stormy.
"Several MPs are waiting for an opportunity to vent their feelings. Some have questions about the party's last-minute announcement of job quotas for minorities and conflicting statements on the Batla house encounter," a party leader from the state said.
He said the Congress should now strive to be the main voice of opposition against the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.
Party MP Jagdambika Pal said the Congress' performance was below par as it was not seen as a viable alternative to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
"Elections were fought on local issues. The SP became the alternative as people were fed up with the BSP. The Congress will perform much better in the parliamentary polls," Pal told IANS.
He said the hard work done by party leader Rahul Gandhi would bear fruits in the 2014 polls.
Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed said the party is making an assessment of the poll results. "An assessment is being done in the party and shortcomings will be addressed," Ahmed told IANS.
A party functionary said a meeting of the Congress Working Committee may be called to deliberate upon the party's preparations for the forthcoming assembly polls.
"The party had planned to hold a chintan shivir (brainstorming session) but dates were not finalised. It may be held now in the light of the assembly poll outcome," the leader said.
Five states - Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur - went to the polls earlier this year but the Congress got an absolute majority only in Manipur.
Elections are scheduled in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat by the end of this year and in Karnataka in the first half of 2013.
The leader conceded that Gujarat was a "tough" state for the party and added that the challenge for the Congress had intensified in Himachal Pradesh after its failure to form a government in neighbouring Punjab.
He said the party will have to make careful manoeuvres in Himachal Pradesh so that rival camps work unitedly in the polls. He added while the party had good prospects of returning to power in Karnataka due to divisions in the BJP, it could not afford to be complacent.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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