New Delhi: With just a little more than a year left for the next Lok Sabha polls, Congress may be in for a hard grind electorally in 2013 when major states go to polls with the Bharatiya Janata Party on a high after Narendra Modi's hat-trick in Gujarat. It has been another roller coaster year in 2012 for the Congress heading the United Progressive Alliance government with a major ally Trinamool Congress quitting the central coalition and equally important key outside supporters the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Paryt showing unease.
But for all their unease, the two parties from Uttar Pradesh have come to the aid of the government in Parliament where and when it matters most-- willing to strike, but afraid to wound. On top of it, things also appear to be looking up for the Congress with government in a position to shed its image of policy paralysis and taking some hard decisions on the reforms front.
The possible emergence of Modi as BJP's prime ministerial candidate to be pitted against Rahul Gandhi in the next Lok Sabha elections in 2014 is said to be viewed by Congress as both a challenge and an opportunity. A section in the Congress believes that Modi could be a polarising figure and unite the Muslims behind the party in a national election. But there is an equal concern that BJP, which suffers from leadership squabbles, could remain united behind Modi and present a tough challenge.
The upcoming year could witness a host of regional parties posing another challenge through a proposed Federal Front with a view to bring together non-Congress, non-BJP parties. Amid talk that Parliament polls could be a Rahul vs Modi tussle, the Congress has to get its act together as during the year gone by it has been beset with problems and battered by one controversy after another.
Over-confidence cost the Congress dearly in Akali Dal-ruled Punjab, it was ousted from power in Goa in the wake of scams and scandals and as the year ended, the party had to helplessly watch Modi's hat-trick in Gujarat. The redeeming feature was that it retained power in Manipur, ousted BJP from power in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
A series of Assembly and Lok Sabha bypolls in Andhra Pradesh, the only major state where the party is in power on its own, saw the ground slipping fast with the emergence of YSR Congress whose controversial young leader YS Jaganmohan Reddy parted ways with Congress sometime back.
In the year gone by, Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, was at the centre of controversy over his alleged land deals in party-ruled Haryana with Opposition targeting the first family of the party over the issue. Some Union Ministers belonging to the Congress were also dogged by controversy during the year and notably among them was Virbhadra Singh who resigned from the Cabinet in the wake of framing of charges in a corruption case against him.
Singh, a five-time Chief Minister, later led the Congress to victory in his home state of Himachal Pradesh. The year saw the death of Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, a former Maharashtra Chief Minister and one of the seniormost leaders from Maharashtra.
A significant development after UPA's chief troubleshooter Pranab Mukherjee headed to Rashtrapati Bhavan was making Defence Minister A K Antony the number two in the government. Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde was brought in the Home Ministry and P Chidambaram was moved to Finance as the Prime Minister became pro-active on reforms after constantly facing criticism of policy paralysis.
Apart from Trinamool Congress, Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) and Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM-one member parties in the Lok Sabha-- too have quit UPA. In the coming 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 being witnessed at the Centre after the next Lok Sabha polls. 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.
Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar, a keen analyst of the political scene, 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. He feels that Modi's hat-trick in Gujarat could be of advantage to UPA in 2014 as the development is bound to deepen the divide inside the BJP itself and weaken the NDA as he attempts to take over the leadership.
Noting that the year gone by has established the unity of the Congress as also solidarity of the UPA, Aiyar shares the optimism of many a faithful that the worst is over for the Congress. Like Aiyar, many a party man feel that the Congress could end 2012 with much more optimism than in 2011 with the civil society movement seemingly dissipated with divisions cropping up. The partymen insist that the defeat of the opposition-sponsored motions against FDI in retail was no mean achievement and so was the passage of the Banking bill.
In the year gone by, the state polls saw the Congress being relegated to the fourth position in Uttar Pradesh despite Rahul Gandhi personally leading the charge. This was the biggest setback for the ruling party after coming to power at the Centre for the second time in 2009. There was nothing to write home about Congress in a host of other state polls.
October witnessed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh bringing into the government 17 new faces and three promotions. With the New Year about to ring in, the Congressmen can hope to have some reasons to be optimistic about its fortunes.
Challenges and crises, accusations and acrimony and scandals and scams were the order of the day for a couple of years but things now appeared to have started looking up for the ruling coalition. The victory on the controversial issue of FDI in retail in Parliament just secured by the Congress and its government is one such instance.
The talk of direct cash transfers and generation of fresh ideas at the Chintan Shivir in Jaipur next month ahead of the Lok Sabha polls has brought new hopes for Congress and the worry is receding over various scams including Commonwealth Games scandal and Adarsh Housing scam.
By the year end, Congress started preparations for the battle ahead by making Rahul head of the powerful Election Coordination Committee. Changes in the AICC secretariat are expected anytime now which is expected to bring out the 'war team' of the party ahead of the next battle of the ballot.