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Cong counts on poll wave

New Delhi, Feb. 15: The Congress leadership reckons that the political tide will turn in the party’s favour after the February 26 Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland.

A quiet sense of optimism prevailed at the AICC headquarters as party chief Sonia Gandhi kicked off the campaign for the four Assembly elections in Meghalaya last week. The optimism is based on “realistic assessments” the party central leadership has got from poll managers and observers it positioned at the district and state levels in all four states even before nominations opened a fortnight ago.

According to Congress leaders, the party is poised to form governments in Tripura and Himachal Pradesh and most likely in Meghalaya as well. In Nagaland, however, it might lose power.

Along with the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura as a poll partner, the Congress is on course to record a comfortable victory in Tripura, where the Left Front is in power now.

Emboldened by the Tripura prospects, Sonia is expected to address more election rallies there than in Nagaland, party leaders said. State Congress leaders are understood to have requested her to conclude her campaigning in the state.

The assessment for Meghalaya, however, is not as rosy. Congress leaders said the party might either get a simple majority in the Assembly or emerge as the single largest party. But in either case, they are sure of having a Congress chief minister.

In Nagaland, the only state with a sitting Congress government among the four going to polls, the party is keeping its fingers crossed.

“We are not sure of retaining power. The results might go either way. We might end up losing very badly or might score an unexpected victory,” a party leader said.

Much will depend on whether the Nagaland People’s Front-led alliance gets a new ally in the BJP. The Congress’ uncertainty is being attributed to the NSCN (I-M) factor, which this time might work against chief minister S.C. Jamir and in favour of the Opposition, the Congress leaders said.

But the most crucial state is Himachal, where Sonia is scheduled to campaign at least three times. “As per the latest reports from our observers deployed on the ground, we should get at least 35 to 37 seats,” the party leaders said.

There is, at the same time, some anxiety over Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh’s “botched up” raids last week on the business premises of Himachal’s BJP chief minister P.K. Dhumal and his relatives. “But we are still in the lead,” they said.

The results, the Congress central leadership believes, will bolster the party’s efforts to forge a pan-Indian opposition alliance under its leadership to take on the NDA in the parliamentary polls next year.

The party leaders said the Congress’ direct clash with the Left parties in Bengal and Kerala will not come in the way of forging a pan-Indian alliance, of which the Left will be an important partner.

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