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New allies, Modi to figure high on Cong agenda in Jaipur meet

The brainstorming session is also likely to focus on the issue of women empowerment in the backdrop of the brutal Delhi gang-rape that shook the nation.

New Delhi: The issue of new allies and the likely challenge from BJP leader and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the next general elections are expected to dominate the Chintan Shivir of Congress at Jaipur this week.

The brainstorming session is also likely to focus on the issue of women empowerment in the backdrop of the brutal Delhi gang-rape that shook the nation. A resolution in the matter is expected to be adopted at the meeting with a sub-committee already set up to prepare the draft paper.

The two-day shivir begins on January 18 in Jaipur. It will be followed by an AICC meeting on January 20.

A review of government`s functioning is also on the cards with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leading the coalition for nine-long years with Sonia Gandhi at the helm of UPA.

With Rahul Gandhi increasingly taking centre-stage, youth power will be the flavour of the Jaipur conclave. Over 100 delegates from Youth Congress and NSUI are among the 350 odd participants at the event.

There was virtually no role for the young leaders in Panchmarhi and Shimla conclaves held in 1998 and 2003, respectively.

Party leaders are projecting the conclave as an attempt to arrive at a "harmonious blend of youth and experience" to get the party`s act together as a precursor to formation of UPA-III.

Congress leaders have given up the talk of `going it alone`, which dominated its discourse a few years back and seem to come round to the view that coalition era is to stay after a string of defeats including in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Modi could be a major talking point during the meeting in the wake of his electoral hattrick that has seen growing speculation about his projection as BJP`s Prime Ministerial candidate.

While the BJP has not made any announcement about the future role of Modi, Congress leaders feel that there is no denying the fact that the Gujarat strongman would be the star campaigner of the opposition party and would occupy the centre-stage.

Congress has lost its sixth Assembly elections in Gujarat
in a row. It is the latest addition to a list of states where the party has not been in power for about two decades or more. The issue is expected to dominate at the party`s brainstorming session, party leaders say.

Congress lost power in Gujarat in 1995, in Uttar Pradesh in 1989, in Bihar in 1990, and in Tripura in 1993. It has been out of power in West Bengal for more than three decades barring the brief stint as the Trinamool Congress` ally. In Tamil Nadu, the party has not come to power on its own for well over four decades.

While there will be discussion on five topics, the most keenly watched will be those on emerging political challenges and organisational strength. The other topics for discussion are emerging socio-economic challenges, India and the world and women empowerment.

The sub group of `Empowerment of Women` was the latest addition amid a growing demand within the country and the party as well that there is a need to take up the issue of women safety much more sincerely.

Congress women MPs plan to raise it in a big way during the shivir with some even hinting that they may choose the occasion to flag the attention of the top leadership towards non-passage of Women Reservation Bill that aims at providing 33 per cent quota to women in both Houses of Parliament, as well as state Assemblies.

Members of this special sub-group set up a few days ago is headed by Girija Vyas and includes Union Ministers Jayanthi Natarajan and Kumari Selja, senior party leaders Ambika Soni and Mohsina Kidwai.

The women MPs have been asked to assemble at the national capital on January 17. The sub-group will prepare an agenda paper which will look into the wider issues on women`s safety and is likely to carry wide-range of suggestions to check crime against women and suggest remedial measures.

At the brainstorming session, another concern for Congress is the rise of regional parties. There country has seen the emergence of regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Naveen Patnaik in Odisha.

The immediate concern for Congress is the rise of Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh, the only major state where the Congress is in power on its own. The separate Telangana issue has created the situation more complex for the party in Andhra Pradesh.

The southern state is strategically important for Congress given the fact that spectacular victory in Andhra Pradesh in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls had been the gamechanger for the UPA.

The deliberations at Jaipur are important in view of the growing feeling in political circles that Congress may be in for a hard grind electorally this year when major states go to polls with BJP on a high after Modi`s hat-trick.

At the same time, things appear to be looking up for the party with the government in a position to shed its image of policy paralysis taking some hard decisions on reforms front.

The coming months could witness a host of regional parties posing another challenge through a proposed Federal Front bringing together non-Congress and non-BJP parties.

During the year, Assembly elections will be held in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Karnataka, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland.

A section in Congress is already talking of the possibility of a United Front-type experiment again at the Centre after the next general elections. This section feels that this time the Congress should, however, participate in the government and not support it from outside as was done in the past.

Another section visualises formation of a UPA-III in the year ahead with the realignment of secular forces and "some kind of inside or outside support" from the Left parties and the JD-U.