Sambalpur: Seeking to gauge his party`s strength and weakness in Odisha ahead of next general elections, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi on Monday wanted partymen to make people aware of various development and welfare schemes undertaken by the UPA government.
Starting his two-day Odisha visit from here, Rahul interacted with party functionaries at the district, block and panchayat levels in marathon sessions, seen as an exercise to cement cracks among leaders and end groupism in order to rejuvenate Congress as a cohesive outfit.
"He wanted to know as to why Congress has become so weak in Odisha," said a senior party leader after a session with Rahul, who is visiting Odisha for the first time after being elevated as AICC`s second in command.
"He (Rahul) emphasised on the need to make common people aware of different welfare schemes and developmental programmes taken up by the Centre in Odisha. He sought to know whether partymen are informing people about these," said another leader from western Odisha after meeting Rahul.
Though the Amethi MP arrived here about three hours behind schedule due to bad weather, he quickly made up and tried to find out whether selection of candidates for the 2009 elections had been done properly, he said.
"The purpose is to exchange ideas with those party leaders who cannot go to Delhi to express their views on how to strengthen the party," said AICC Odisha in-charge Jagdish Tytler, as state leaders hoped Rahul would bring a turnaround in Congress prospects.
The focus during Rahul`s interactions with leaders, party office bearers and MLAs from 17 organisational districts was on taking partymen closer to the masses, sources said.
The visit of Rahul, who will be in Cuttack tomorrow, is seen as an exercise aimed at gearing up the party for the polls as Congress has been out of power in Odisha since 2000.
A tight security net was thrown around the venue and the deliberations were not open to media.
As Congress MP Pradeep Majhi put it, Rahul`s visit to
Odisha at this juncture is significant as the young leader has been taking keen interest in strengthening the party at the grassroots level.
The Congress, which has lost three consecutive Assembly elections in Odisha since 2000, now pins hope on Rahul and believes he can bolster the party`s poll prospects, said a leader.
"The focus is to strengthen the party organisation at grassroots level so that Congress can take on the ruling BJD effectively," he said.
Rahul met district and block level office-bearers of the party and its women, youth and student wings from western and southern regions of Odisha in different batches.
He also interacted with panchayat and block representatives owing allegiance to Congress, which appears to be placing considerable emphasis on improving its show.
Rahul`s programme in Sambalpur is also significant as it is likely to boost the morale of party workers in its traditional stronghold further.
Five of the six sitting Lok Sabha MPs of Congress are from these 17 organisational districts with whose leaders he interacted during the first leg of his Odisha visit.
Barring Balasore, remaining five sitting Congress Lok Sabha MPs are from western and southern parts of the state.
In Cuttack, he would interact with panchayat, block and district-level office-bearers of the Congress from several other districts at a personal level tomorrow at Cuttack, a senior party leader said.
Rahul is also scheduled to attend a meeting with members of the extended working committee the same day at Cuttack, he said.