If the year 2012 was bleak for the Congress, which continued to be besieged by an avalanche of scams and anti-graft agitations - 2013 looks equally grim. Just as the party had started to come out of its stupor by the second half of last year, Narendra Modi's victory in Gujarat and the country-wide anger triggered by the brutal Delhi gangrape , and the callous political response to it, have pushed it back into a muddle.
The Congress-led UPA government at the Centre had managed to bridge governance deficit to some extent by finally pushing through FDI in multibrand retail, kick-starting the landmark direct benefits transfer scheme and the hanging of the 26/11 accused Ajmal Kasab.
But the year ahead is strewn with thorns. Nine states are going to polls this year, which include Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, where the BJP is in power, and Congress-ruled Delhi and Rajasthan.
If the Congress wants to stop the Modi juggernaut before 2014, it must wrest at least one BJP state and retain both Rajasthan and Delhi. A lackluster performance in the states could undermine the morale of the party's workers and even the leadership and could have a direct bearing on its numbers in the Lok Sabha elections.
However, after showing signs of recovery during the winter session of Parliament, the Congress is slipping again. Anti-incumbency sentiments are running high in Rajasthan and Delhi. There is confusion about who will be the party's prime ministerial candidate. Rahul Gandhi is yet to make any political splash.
The Telangana tangle continues to be a cause for concern. The party remains rudderless and leaderless in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Karnataka is the only state where it hopes to benefit from the internal turmoil in the ruling BJP.
The Congress is banking on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram to turn the tables by pushing economic reforms while at the same time cough up billions of rupees for flagship programmes. But there is muted concern in the party as to how far Chidambaram can go to present a "populist" Budget when the economy is still not out of the woods.
There are also question marks about the Congress's ability to leverage political capital out of schemes such as direct benefits transfer and food security.
The cash transfer scheme may not prove to be the "gamechanger" that it has touted to be. In the absence of logistics and necessary infrastructure, it may take more than a year to implement the scheme in all the 600-odd districts across the country.
The food security Bill is also stuck. Even if the government manages to pass it by the end of the Budget session, experts say it could take more than a year for the benefits to percolate down.
Another worry for the Congress is that the canny state satraps such as Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik, Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh, MP's Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar are cloning the food security scheme through the public distribution system in their states, taking the sheen out of the central scheme.
Anticipating a less than impressive show in states, some partymen favour holding the Lok Sabha elections with assembly polls in MP, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Rajasthan. But many others oppose the idea. "The flagship programmes like food security, reforms and cash transfer will take at least a year to yield electoral dividend," a leader sai