The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Togadia town for launch

New Delhi/Jaipur, April 17: Congress big guns will converge in Ajmer town for Sunday’s rally to kick off the party’s campaign for the November polls and keep up the heat on a Sangh parivar smarting from Praveen Togadia’s arrest.

The rally, in the same town where the VHP leader was arrested and later slapped with sedition charges, has assumed significance for both the high command and the Rajasthan unit, which confronts the challenge of sailing against an anti-incumbency tide.

Among those scheduled to attend the rally are chief minister Ashok Gehlot, Ambika Soni, the AICC general secretary in charge of Rajasthan, senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, state unit chief Girija Vyas and AICC secretary B.K. Hari Prasad.

Sources said Togadia’s arrest for defying the state government’s trishul ban would be the main issue at the meeting. A senior party leader slammed the VHP for trying to “ameliorate the woes of people when the entire state is reeling under four successive years of severe drought”.

Gehlot’s development agenda and his government’s efforts to implement various drought-relief programmes would certainly be more credible if viewed in the context of Togadia’s pre-poll attempts to communalise the atmosphere, the leader added. “We will tell this to the people of Rajasthan and expose the BJP’s bankruptcy.”

Indications are both state and central leaders will build on this theme. The Ajmer rally will be followed by similar meetings at Udaipur, Kota, Jodhpur and Jaipur over the next two weeks. Party president Sonia Gandhi might address the Jaipur rally.

In the peak summer heat of May and June, the party has planned 40 follow-up district-level rallies and conventions. “The idea is not to lose the momentum, which we hope to generate at Ajmer,” said another leader.

Congress central leaders are also feeling more confident about turning the tables on an aggressive BJP after the “lukewarm” response to the VHP’s bandh call on Tuesday.

If the Congress looks upbeat, the VHP seems in a state of shock at the charge of sedition against Togadia under Section 121-A, which prompted an Ajmer court to keep him in judicial custody till April 30.

The punishment under this Act is life imprisonment.

Despite the presence of its vice-president, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, in the city, the outfit failed to take a legal step.

At a press conference here today, Kishore and Togadia’s counsel Onkar Singh Lakhawat, who is also a state BJP vice-president, said a decision would only be taken after VHP president Ashok Singhal arrives on Saturday.

Kishore questioned how Togadia, who was in judicial custody, could commit a new crime to invite the fresh charge and alleged that it was included at Sonia’s instance.

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