The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Full house for BJP laboratory ‘test’

Mumbai, Nov. 5: An unusually large number of leaders of all major political parties from Maharashtra will be camping in neighbouring Gujarat during the forthcoming Assembly elections, which are being perceived as a “laboratory test” for Indian politics.

Leaders and volunteers of various political outfits from Maharashtra are already on their way to the neighbouring state, signalling the unprecedented importance being attached to the elections that will begin on December 12.

The BJP has sought the help of the Shiv Sena and other affiliated organisations in its battle for the “gaurav and samman (pride and honour)” of Gujarat.

The party’s Maharashtra unit has also urged senior leaders to oversee the “language-oriented campaign” with senior party leader Balwant Shastri being an integral part of the intensive campaign team.

The party will target the Hindi-speaking electorate in the state, focusing on regions such as Rajkot, south Surat, Valsad, Vadodara and Ahmedabad where the Hindi-speaking populace amounts to as much as 20 per cent.

Shastri maintains that the Hindi-speaking population is on the rise in Gujarat.

“The Hindi-speaking groups will obviously be targeted. If leaders like (Samajwadi Party leader) Mulayam Singh Yadav and (Rashtriya Janata Dal chief) Laloo Prasad Yadav can target these voters everywhere in all the elections, so can we. The BJP is not doing anything new.”

The Congress, which is rushing close to 5,000 volunteers to Gujarat, will focus on the significant Marathi-speaking population.

The Congress campaign will kick off with party president Sonia Gandhi’s speech in Karamsad, the birthplace of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

“We have kept ourselves free for the whole month,” said Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Govindrao Adik.

“We will do what is asked of us from our Gujarat unit.” Burying their often-reported differences, Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Adik are slated to tour the Marathi-dominated areas of Gujarat together while attending several pre-election meetings and rallies.

Many senior Congress leaders and office bearers from Mumbai have also started camping in Gujarat.

Others are busy drawing up a list of “committed volunteers”, as the party feels it will fare much better on its own.

The Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has been shouting itself hoarse about the need for all secular parties to join hands to defeat the BJP, but sections of the Congress differ.

All the party’s district committee presidents have been asked to draw up a list of volunteers as soon as possible.

“These elections are perhaps the most important in the last decade,” said the spokesperson of the Congress’ state unit, Gurudas Kamat.

The party, which has pumped in a new leader to head its Gujarat unit — Shankersinh Vaghela — would also ensure that its youth, students’ and women’s wings in Maharashtra send their members in large numbers to Gujarat.

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