Shahid K Abbas in New Delhi
Buoyed by a string of good performances in assembly elections, the Congress is now hoping it will be able extend its good run to Gujarat too, where elections are due in December.
And that is not all. If the buzz is to be believed, the party is already looking beyond Gujarat, planning a return to power at the Centre.
With this background, a conclave of chief ministers from 14 Congress-ruled states at Amount Abu, a tourist town on the Rajasthan-Gujarat border, holds much significance both for the party and its rivals.
The two-day conclave beginning on Friday is being touted as Congress's reply to the Bharatiya Janata Party's gaurav yatra in Gujarat.
Officially, however, it's just a review of Congress governments' performance.
"The Mount Abu meeting of Congress chief ministers would be the fourth session of its kind where the chief ministers would present a report card of their governments," party's chief spokesman S Jaipal Reddy told newsmen on Wednesday in New Delhi.
The conclave would open with an inaugural speech by the All India Congress Committee chief, Sonia Gandhi, on Friday and conclude with her interaction with the media on Saturday.
While the official programme talks of independent sessions to discuss specific subjects, ranging from rural development to disinvestment, that's just officialese.
The main aim of the high-profile meeting is to queer the pitch for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre and decide the strategy for the Gujarat election. A formal launch of campaigning in Gujarat is scheduled two days later in Karamsad in Anand.
The party believes that the Gujarat poll would give it an opportunity to find out where it stands in a communally surcharged environment.
The party believes that the BJP has committed a grave mistake by going back to its divisive policies.
Recalling the recent by-elections in Gujarat, a senior Congress leader said: " [Chief Minister Narendra] Modi may have managed to enter the assembly from Rajkot, but the Congress victories from two other seats were warning signals for the BJP."
And then he went a step ahead. "BJP's electoral graph is declining in Gujarat by each passing day. They are trying to reap an electoral harvest by adhering to divisive politics but that would not pay. It has lost a string of municipal, district and sub-district elections," he said.
The Gujarat unit of the Congress is also enthused by the declining support for the BJP in the powerful Patel community. Attributing this alienation of Patels to the
sidelining of Keshubhai Patel in the party, the Congress leadership ascribes Modi's recent claim to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's legacy as a gimmick to win back the community's sympathy.
Karamsad, from where the Congress is scheduled to launch its Gujarat campaign, happens to be Sardar Patel's birthplace.
Politics apart, Congress chief ministers and top party functionaries must get ready to brave the chill of Mount Abu when the two-day conclave commences on Friday.
The opening session will be on rural development, agriculture and decentralisation with a special emphasis on weaker sections of the society. Former Union minister Y K Alagh will deliver the keynote address.
The second session on education, health and women empowerment would be addressed by A K Shivkumar, an advisor to UNICEF.
The third session on disinvestment and infrastructure would be addressed by Ravi Parthasarthy, an expert on infrastructure.
The session on law and order and security would be addressed by former Intelligence Bureau chief M K Narain.
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