Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reminded his Congress colleagues at the chintan shivir that Pakistan also had a constituency for peace. So while a strong message needed to be sent to that country after episodes such as the recent one when two Indian soldiers were beheaded on the LOC, it was equally important to think, the PM said, of ways of taking that relationship forward by addressing this constituency which believed in democracy.

Congress sources said the Prime Minister said this while talking to those in the foreign policy group. With former foreign minister S.M. Krishna dropping out of the chairmanship of the “India and the World” group at the last moment, and commerce minister Anand Sharma being asked to replace him at the nth hour, it was left to the PM to give the group talking points.

If the 345 delegates divided themselves into the five groups deliberating on political challenges, socio-economic challenges, women's empowerment, foreign policy and organisational issues, the Prime Minister, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi visited all the groups, making interventions.

Ms. Gandhi told the group on women’s empowerment that the first step would be to start respecting women at home and by teaching male children how to treat girls. Rahul Gandhi, on his part, spoke to the group on organisational strength, stressing that the party must re-assess its block-level units as that was the foundation of the party.

But the theme that Ms Gandhi highlighted in her inaugural speech — the need to address the growing disenchantment of the middle class with politicians — found resonance across groups. So four MPs representing urban constituencies — Sanjay Nirupam and MoSs Ajay Maken, Tushar Choudhury and Milind Deora — all spoke of the urgent need to address the aspirations of urban voters.

Few urban seats

Mr. Chowdhury pointed out that in the recent assembly elections in Gujarat, the Congress won hardly any urban seats. It was also underscored that after delimitation, the number of urban constituencies had grown.

If these four MPs said this at the group discussing political challenges, at the deliberation on organisational strengths, MoS Jitin Prasad said that earlier party cadres spread the party's message and mobilised crowds, but now by using social media and technology that message could be delivered instantly to a much larger group and thousands of people could be mobilised much faster.

It was important that the party incorporate such methods, Mr. Prasada said. He also said if jobs were not found for the educated, growing numbers would join the protests.

In the political group, discussants were divided into those who favoured alliances and those who felt the party would never revive unless it went alone. MoS Deepa Das Munsi, who favours going it alone in West Bengal, said that whatever the party decided, it should be announced quickly so that people could prepare for the elections.

In the group discussing socio-economic challenges, MPs from Kerala opposed the slashing of subsidies while former union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who spoke passionately about panchayati raj, stressed that the party should not stray from it socialist moorings.

Friday, of course, was the first round of discussions; hopefully there will be more clarity on Saturday when the deliberations are over.

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