New Delhi, Dec 23 (IANS) After its third successive defeat in the Gujarat assembly polls, sections of the Congress feel it is time to present a new charismatic leadership in the state if the party wants to mount a viable challenge to the ruling BJP in the state in the parliamentary elections in 2014.
Though the party won most of the seats in places where the top party leadership went to campaign, the defeat should act as a "wake up call", say several in the party who did not wish to be identified for fear of offending party bosses.
The party won five out of the six seats where Congress chief Sonia Gandhi campaigned, six out of seven where party general secretary Rahul Gandhi campaigned and won the lone constituency - Vansda - that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited, party officials pointed out.
But the influence of the central leaders could not compensate for the lack of leadership in the state unit, indicated by the fact that both Gujarat Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia and leader of legislative party Shaktisinh Gohil lost the elections.
The Congress could improve its tally by just two seats - from 59 in 2007 to 61 - against an expected 80-plus seats based on preseumed support from the rural areas that had been allegedly neglected by Chief Minister Narendra Modi's government, sources said.
"The assembly result should act as a wake up call if we have to improve our tally in the 2014 general election," said a Congress leader, who refused to be identified.
"It is a wake up call for the Congress in Gujarat," historian and political analyst Zoya Hasan told IANS.
The key factors behind the party's assembly poll defeat were a weak party organisation, faulty ticket distribution and lack of consultations with old timers, party sources said.
"We have to present a new leadership with a new message," a senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named, admitted.
Congress sources said the only hope for the party to improve its tally is to start working for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from now itself by choosing a new leader with a good image and a vision for the state. That will be the challenge for the top leadership when it reviews the party's performance in the assembly elections over the next few weeks and works out its future strategy ahead of the long overdue overhaul of the All India Congress Committee early in January 2013.
The party had identified relevant issues like low social welfare indicators in the rural areas of Gujarat but started very late in taking the message to the masses. Thus, it could not effectively convince the voters, the sources said.
"It seems the Congress has not learnt any lessons in Gujarat...as in the past it starts working on the ground very late," N.Bhaskara Rao, who is the founder chairman of Centre for Media Studies, a communication and research organisation, told IANS.
The Congress chief campaigned in the Jasdan, Keshwat, Mandvi, Sitpur, Dakor and Kalor constituencies. The party lost in Jasdan.
Rahul Gandhi campaigned in Sanand, Jamnagar, Palanpur, Samblaji, Jhalot and Bhuj. The party lost in Bhuj.
A section of Congress leaders said the presence of former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, whose Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) contested the elections, dented the party's vote share.
The Congress tally in the state dropped from 12 seats in 2004 to 11 in 2009 out of a total of 26 Lok Sabha seats from the state.