Jaipur: Outlining the party's strategy with the 2014 general elections in mind, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday advised party workers to respect alliances but not at the expense of reviving the Congress and also voiced concern over its shrinking traditional support base.
Her candid statements came on a day when some party leaders frankly accepted that the Congress would not be able to make it on its own in the general elections.
Speaking at the inauguration of the party's 'Chintan Shivir' introspection session here, Gandhi said: "In states which we are in alliance, we have to strike a balance between respecting these alliances and ensuring that the party's rejuvenation is not compromised."
"The Congress is facing increased competition, and inroads have been made into its traditional support bases," she said.
In another frank observation, the party chief said: "There are some states where we have been out of power for too long... Although I believe that being in power is not the sole purpose of political activity, this does have an adverse impact on our morale and organsational ability."
Gandhi said the conclave had come at a time when the "party has been in power for nine years" but "is not governing a number of states and faces serious challenges in states long considered its bastions".
She said the party squandered many opportunities because it could not function as a disciplined and united team.
The Congress has been out of power in the major states of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for decades, while it broke up its teetering alliance with the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal last year.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is surviving on outside support of Samajwadi Party, and Bahujan Samaj Party which have 22 and 21 Lok Sabha members respectively.
Among the 12-odd states where the Congress rules, only Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Assam are major states. In Maharashtra, it is in an uneasy coalition with the Nationalist Congress Party.
In a reflection of the party thinking, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, known for his open views, was quoted by a TV news channel as saying the Congress might not be able to come back to power on its own in the next general elections. "The Congress has structural issues," he said.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram appeared to back him, when he said that it is difficult for any party to win absolute majority.
"Realistically, it is difficult for any party. But that doesn't mean a party should not aim to win absolute majority."
"There are some states where we are out of power for sometime. For example, Tamil Nadu. Those are the states where the climb would be very very steep", he added.
Asked to react to Ramesh's statement, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said: "We're here to see we get the numbers and get our government in power."
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quick to pounce on the Congress' remarks, saying the party was not confident of winning on its own.
"For a moment I felt it was a 'Chinta Shivir' (worry meet) rather than 'Chintan Shivir'," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said in New Delhi.
She said the Congress president failed to address important issues such as price rise and corruption, about which people were concerned adding the party was merely doing lip service.
"For a national party prior to an election year, to start a review saying they may not be able to come back to power on their own is very good for the opposition party," Sitharaman said.