To highlight alleged misgovernance by the present regime, its first nationwide campaign ahead of the 2024 parliamentary elections.
A confident Rajiv Shukla, buoyed by his endorsement in Himachal Pradesh, predicts an electoral revival for the Congress.
The Congress member of Parliament, who was tasked with handling the 2022 Himachal Pradesh election for the party where the Congress won and formed a government, told Business Standard: "We will win Karnataka, followed by Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and with good possibilities in Madhya Pradesh. After that, we will win Haryana."
Shukla is placing his faith in myriad signals that point to a dip in the Bharatiya Janata Party's popularity.
In pursuit of that goal, the Congress is preparing itself internally for the 2024 challenge. One aspect of the prep is a revival of the organisation; another is the revival of ideas the party believes in.
In November, a meeting of the Congress task force took place at 15, Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Road that every party member calls their war room.
The task force was constituted in April 2022 by Sonia Gandhi, right before its big three-day conclave in Udaipur. She had announced an 'empowered action group' to address 'political challenges' ahead of the 2024 national elections.
However, elections of the party president intervened and the task force met for the first time under Mallikarjun Kharge's leadership in November.
The idea of a Bharat Jodo Yatra had already been given at the Chintan Shivir in Udaipur. But in addition, the Congress announced a new public outreach programme called Haath se Haath Jodo that started on Republic Day: To highlight alleged misgovernance by the present regime, its first nationwide campaign ahead of the 2024 parliamentary elections.
The new campaign, Congress General Secretaries K C Venugopal and Jairam Ramesh underlined, will be entirely political, unlike the Bharat Jodo Yatra that they said highlighted fundamental issues through a collective platform.
While former Congress president Rahul Gandhi was the face of India's longest-ever foot march, the Haath se Haath Jodo campaign will start on the ground through the party's state units.
The party will issue charge sheets periodically as it did in 2003 before the 2004 general election that brought the Congress back to power. The charge sheet will emphasise day-to-day livelihood issues.
Providing a sample, Venugopal said: "3.5 million jobs have been lost in this country. In May 2014, the price of petrol was Rs 71.41, diesel was Rs 55.49, and crude oil price at that point in time was $105.71 per barrel. In January 2023, the price of petrol was Rs 100. Now it has again increased. Liquefied petrol gas, petrol, and diesel prices are at an all-time high."
"Farmers are in a very difficult situation. All farmers during the Bharat Jodo Yatra came and complained to Rahul: 'We cannot afford these petrol and diesel prices'."
This and other bread-and-butter issues are going to be addressed in an overtly political way during the Haath se Haath Jodo yatra.
But to make this effective, the party's state units need revival. This is likely to be a painful exercise, although the party has taken the bit between the teeth.
Challenges within the party are still there and simmering, but with Rahul and Sonia assuming a backstage role, their critics in the party have no single issue to criticise. Meanwhile, state units which see a chance of returning to power -- like Karnataka -- are doing their housekeeping.
The district unit of the party in Mysuru, for instance, has put in place a total revamp of the party structure, starting with the Other Backward Class cell of the party. B J Vijaykumar, president, Mysuru District Congress Committee, told Kannada media that the party took stock of the functioning of various units and found that many did not have active working presidents who had been inactive for years.
Kharge, in his New Year message to the party, said: 'Let this be the year that we work hard to raise the voice of every Indian, especially the weakest. The onus is on us to save our Constitution and democratic ethos. Every Indian should feel that the Congress is the medium and vehicle in realising their dreams and aspirations of a secular, progressive and liberal India.'
Will this be seen by workers as a call for revival? Or just famous last words?