New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi Tuesday began a stock-taking exercise following the party's debacle in Assembly polls in Haryana and Mahrashtra even as a clamour for "course correction" grew within its ranks in the wake of the dip in electoral fortunes.
Haryana PCC chief Ashok Tanwar and Congress's in-charge for the state, Shakeel Ahmed, met Gandhi to brief her on the reasons for the party's poor showing which has left it with a tally of a mere 15 seats in the 90-member House.
A blame game has already begun in Congress following the election results on Sunday and its central leadership has now sought to rein in its leaders from airing their views outside party fora.
"It is better if (opinions) are discussed within the party fora. Any criticism of any Congress leader by any Congressman should not be made outside party fora," said Ahmed, who is also an AICC general secretary, when asked about the remarks by former Union minister Kumari Selja that the blame lies with outgoing Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda for the party's defeat in the state.
Asked whether Selja's view that too much power was given to Hooda for the elections was correct, Ahmed avoided making a direct reply, saying instead that it was "an issue for discussion. It will come up when we discuss what went wrong and who are the people responsible for it".
At the same time, Ahmed reminded that the Hooda regime is the only one in Haryana since the inception of the state in 1966 that has held power there for two consecutive terms.
Congress had won 40 of the 90 seats it contested in 2009 under Hooda's leadership. In the 2004 Assembly elections, the party had done even better, winning 67 of the 90 seats.
Party leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that "over reliance" on Hooda coupled with the deep chasm within the Congress state unit had cost them as the Jat votes had got divided between INLD and Congress despite the last Jat reservation done by the previous UPA government at the Centre.
Votes of the Dalits, OBCs and other sections, including that of Punjabis, went largely to BJP, they added.
A senior party leader, who did not wish to be identified, said that the frequent attacks by Selja on Hooda as also the factor of the PCC chief not getting along with Hooda had created animosity among Dalit voters for the Hooda-led party.
The last nail in the coffin for Congress was Dera Sacha Sauda's decision to support BJP in Sirsa, they added.
The Dera had for the first time in its 24-year history announced open support for a political party for these Assembly polls.
As to Maharashtra, where BJP is set to form the government, a senior party functionary said Congress was "trapped between two choices -- reforming and reviving" in the state after the party threw up a better than expected performance there.
"The victory of BJP in Haryana is spectacular and more disappointing for us than the results in Maharasthra, where we performed a little better than our expectations.
"The victory of former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in Karad despite all the adverse reports against him shows that his clean image paid off and we managed to win a good number of seats in the state despite a strong anti-incumbency wave," said the leader who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
The leader regretted that Congress had kept vacillating on the leadership issue in Maharashtra months before the Assembly polls with some talking of a replacement for Prithviraj and others pushing the name of former chief minister Ashok Chavan even as Naryan Rane kept up a constant attack on the incumbent chief minister.
"You see Rane lost and Prithviraj won despite all criticism. We also won five seats in Mumbai despite a BJP wave. So Prithviraj's clean image definitely clicked," he said.
He insisted that Congress will have to stick to people with a clean image and get out of the habit of 'one step forward, two steps back' on such issues.
Soon after the results, former Union minister Shashi Tharoor had tweeted, "Congratulations Prithviraj Chavan for proving that men of principle, integrity & English-language education can also win elections!".
Firing a salvo at the senior, Delhi-based leaders of the party, a young minister in Karnataka, Dinesh Gundu Rao, called for the "weeding out" ineffectual leaders operating from the national capital.
There are indications from the party that a reshuffle of AICC and some changes in the PCCs can be made even before the Assembly upcoming elections in Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir. But no final picture about the timing of such a reshuffle has emerged as yet.
Signs are that the party will continue putting up young leaders as PCC chiefs in the states, as done in Rajasthan (Sachin Pilot), Haryana (Ashok Tanwar) and Madhya Pradesh (Arun Yadav).
Even Bihar and Jharkhand have relatively younger faces as their PCC chiefs in Ashok Chowdhary and Sukhdev Bhagat.
"Internal dissension and in-house rivalry is a big curse for Congress in all states and so it was in Haryana and Maharashtra. More so in Haryana, where the leaders, although they shared the dais, did not work in coordination," the leader said.