New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi on Saturday did some plain speaking as he slammed infighting among Congress leaders and asked them to maintain unity during his first meeting with state leaders after being formally assigned to lead the party`s campaign for Lok Sabha polls.
"There may be differences among you on certain issues but you have to fight the polls unitedly to ensure the party`s victory," Rahul, the Congress Vice-President, said at the meeting with PCC chiefs and AICC delegates.
During his interaction with leaders from Madhya Pradesh, where Congress suffered a humiliating defeat, Rahul said he knows that the party "lost due to infighting among senior leaders".
Rahul separately met AICC delegates from each state and sought to learn of the issues which are likely to be prominent for the Lok Sabha polls. He also sought to find out about the strength of the Congress organisation in each of the states.
Rahul was also told by leaders from some states, including Chhattisgarh, that those constantly creating trouble within should be thrown out of the party.
Delegates from Uttar Pradesh complained to Rahul that central ministers remained mostly inaccessible to them but, when available, did not do their work.
Some delegates urged Rahul to go for a roadshow on the lines of those undertaken by Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi to connect with the ordinary party workers.
Meanwhile, with the focus now on finding new allies for the party ahead of the upcoming general elections, he also made it clear during his interaction with leaders from Bihar that any alliance would be formalised keeping in mind the party`s interests.
If a respectable number of seats was not offered to Congress, it may even go it alone for the polls in the state in question, he added.
Congress had fought the 2009 Lok Sabha elections alone after breaking off from an alliance with RJD and LJP. The party had followed that course after it was offered only three seats by RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Congress, on its own, had then won two seats while RJD could muster four seats out of the 28 contested. LJP had failed to open its account on the 12 seats it fought.
In that regard, a member from Jammu and Kashmir said that Congress should fight the elections on its own and not as part of an alliance with National Conference.
With a view to declaring its candidates as early as possible, Congress is all set to begin its ticket distribution exercise for Lok Sabha polls by holding meetings of the newly set up screening committees.
The party could announce its first list of candidates as early as in the first or second week of February with the meetings of the screening committees to begin this month.
A number of meetings of the party`s panel on alliances, manifesto and campaign strategy have already been held and some quick decisions on these matters are expected soon.
Rahul`s consultations with the chiefs of Pradesh Congress Committees and District Congress Committees are also aimed at incorporating their views and suggestions ahead of Lok Sabha polls.
Rahul met leaders of each state for about 15 to 30 minutes. Some state leaders pointed out that the party`s stand on corruption was somewhat compromised when it aligned with the "tainted" Shibu Soren`s JMM in Jharkhand and said that similar was the record of the chiefs of some of the other parties whom Congress had approached for an alliance.
A Congress district head from Jharkhand said that when the party finalises its seats for each state, it should focus on the areas where it has a chance of winning.
When leaders from Gujarat stated that Congress was spending a pittance on publicity as compared to BJP, Rahul said that party workers should compensate for that by themselves publicising the achievements and programmes of the UPA government.
"Rahul heard the concerns of the party workers and focussed on organising them for the battle ahead," an AICC release said.
He met the leaders of three-four states together in batches with two-three leaders from each state being given an opportunity to express their views.
Rahul asked the party leaders to take on issues which affected the people in their respective states.
"Pan out in villages, blocks and districts. Work with a missionary spirit. Go to the grassroots and remain united," Rahul said.
"We must fight with unity, focussing on the strengths of our party and the good work we have done over the last 10 years," a party release quoted Rahul as saying.
Addressing the AICC meeting yesterday, which saw Congress pass the baton of leadership to him for the upcoming general elections, Rahul had sought to enthuse the party cadre for the Lok Sabha polls while giving an indication of a likely change in the party`s style of functioning.
Rahul also met Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Partap Singh Bajwa along with MPs and MLAs and asked them to fight unitedly for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
He briefed them about the national issues to be taken up for the elections and asked PPCC leaders to highlight the failures of the SAD-BJP government in Punjab.
He also asked PPCC leaders to highlight the achievements of the UPA government at the Centre. Meanwhile, Bajwa also demanded a special industrial package for the border districts of Punjab on the lines of that which had been extended to the hilly states, saying that the border areas of Punjab were lacking in development.
Bajwa added that that members of the newly constituted PPCC were united on all issues. He said that the anti- incumbency factor was very strong in Punjab and the people were fed up with the policies of the SAD-BJP government.
Accusing Punjab ministers of embezzling funds sent by the Centre, Bajwa said that corruption in government and emergence of sand and drug mafia had become major hindrances to progress in the state.
He assured Rahul that PPCC would launch a more intensive agitation against the SAD-BJP government with the aim of forcing it to order a CBI inquiry against the drug racket in the state.