The Congress is increasingly becoming a party that falters when opportunities knock on its door, especially in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.
The stampede in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Lucknow constituency -- which took place when Vajpayee's poll manager and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lalji Tandon was distributing free saris to mark his birthday on April 12 -- is a case in point.
In the wake of the tragedy, in which 22 women were killed, and advocate Ram Jethmalani's decision to withdraw his nomination from the constituency following an appeal by the PM, a team of Congress strategists led by Salman Khurshid, Jairam Ramesh and the newly joined telecom guru Sam Pitroda put in a request with party president Sonia Gandhi: field your daughter Priyanka Vadra against Vajpayee.
But the Congress high command rejected the request, as the old guard advised Sonia that "it is not a good political strategy".
"In the wake of the sari tragedy, Priyanka should have contested from Lucknow," said an angry party leader at the Congress' state headquarters in Lucknow. "Vajpayee would have been easily defeated. As usual, the Congress has missed another great chance.
"I really do not understand why the Congress is in love with Ram Jethmalani. In fact, the Congress has lost its reputation by trying to field Jethmalani from here. He is no match for Vajpayee, but Priyanka is," he added.
Party leaders like him are aghast that the Congress has also not deployed Priyanka outside Rae Bareli and Amethi, from where Sonia and her son Rahul are contesting.
One party worker suspects if Sonia is afraid of being sidelined once her daughter comes in. "I don't know, but that could be the real reason," he commented.
The state unit's campaign committee chairman, Sanjay Singh, does not know why Priyanka has not been deployed everywhere. "A decision on that will be taken soon," he said.
But the very fact that Rahul is contesting from Amethi has "energised the Congress in Uttar Pradesh", he added.
"The Congress will sweep the polls in Uttar Pradesh this time, especially because the people here have witnessed how the BJP is treating them with cheap saris," Singh told rediff.com
He said the BJP has "exposed itself as a party without any concern for the people of India.
"The BJP's Indian Shining campaign is a fraud. The sari stampede tragedy showed it to all," Singh said.
Singh added that the Congress wants the Election Commission to countermand the election in Lucknow because Tandon was one of those who proposed Vajpayee's nomination.
"The Congress is going to step up the campaign against the BJP and Vajpayee. We will observe a Black Monday tomorrow across Uttar Pradesh," he added.