M A I N   N E W S

Sonia-Modi Slugfest
It’s Gujarat shining vs aam aadmi
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Ahmedabad, December 2
Will the BJP pull off in Gujarat this month what it could not do so at the national level in 2004? Or more importantly, will the Congress do an encore in Gujarat with its aam aadmi campaign that brought it rich dividends nearly four years ago?

The Gujarat Assembly elections scheduled for December 11 and 16 is effectively a race between Narendra Modi and the Congress. While the former easily transcends his BJP, the latter is an outfit nominally fronted by Sonia Gandhi that is still in search of a leader at the local level.

Seeking a third time in office, Modi is battling anti-incumbency more than the stain of the post-Godhra riots that preceded the 2002 Assembly elections. The Congress has decided not to harp on the past but concentrate on the failings of the Narendra Modi government.

“As per surveys conducted by the Congress before the elections, the condition of the poor, the tribesmen and other marginalised sections of the society have worsened during the Narendra Modi’s rule,” a senior Congress leader told this reporter. AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh, who released the party’s election manifesto in Ahmedabad today, added the Congress had managed to strike a chord in the minds of the people with its campaign.

The Congress has pulled out all stops to mount a high pitched campaign with no expenses spared. The party has brought out mobile vans fitted with giant LCD television sets to highlight what it calls the failures of the government.

According to Himanshu Vyas, spokesman for the Congress in Gujarat, the party is playing up the plight of farmers who have been forced to commit suicide. The Modi government is also drawing flak for rising electricity prices even as the government tom-toms its success in getting uninterrupted power supply to the state.

Reports from the interiors of Gujarat, where Congress chief Sonia Gandhi kicked off the party’s campaign in Navsari and Rajkot on Saturday, indicate that her party is drawing good crowds. In contrast, L.K. Advani, who is also campaigning in Gujarat, has had to make with smaller crowds. “He is still drawing crowds. The old controversy over his remarks on Jinnah have been forgotten,” a BJP leader says with relief.

Indeed, it was in June 2005 that the VHP and other saffron outfits formally ‘banned’ Advani from entering Ahmedabad and adjoining Gandhinagar, which is the BJP leader’s parliamentary constituency. The saffron outfits had even carried out ‘purification’ rituals of foundation stones laid by Advani in the wake of his remarks on Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

In a high-pitched speech, Sonia Gandhi accused the Narendra Modi government of going soft on terrorism. “Raghunath and Akshardham

temples were attacked by terrorists while their foreign minister went to Kandahar to release terrorists,” Gandhi said in her speech.

Further her remarks that Godse has replaced Gandhi in today’s Gujarat left the BJP fuming.

BJP general secretary in charge of Gujarat Arun Jaitley retaliated by raking up the Bofors issue while Narendra Modi harped on Gandhi’s Italian origin. “It is the mud from Italy that is being thrown at me,” Modi said shortly after Gandhi’s speech.

Meanwhile, the BJP is showing signs of making a hurried course correction to its campaign. According to observers here, the BJP is apprehensive that the ‘Resurgent Gujarat’ campaign that is the brainchild of Modi may not work at the hustings. Over the past two days, the BJP has pulled out a few Hindutva issues like the Ram Setu issue that was put on the backburner last month.

Sources say, the BJP leadership is working overtime to mend fences with other organs of the Sangh parivar like the RSS and the VHP after several months of estrangement. “The BJP campaign will pick up momentum once the RSS cadres enter the campaign fray,” says a party activist. In a clear indication that all is not well with the BJP, its party headquarters in Ahmedabad presented a deserted look.

Modi, we are told, has alienated his comrades after riding to victory

in the 2002 elections. A number of BJP rebels are contesting as Independents with the support of the Sangh parivar.

If that is true, then the listless campaigners of the Congress will suddenly receive an adrenalin boost in the days to come.



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