The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Student’ Sonia scraps rail roko

New Delhi, Sept. 6: In the spirit of Teacher’s Day, Sonia Gandhi yesterday bowed to her senior colleagues’ wisdom and called off plans to stage rail and rasta rokos across the country.

The Congress had planned to hold a countrywide one-hour rail roko and block roads on September 22 to highlight the National Democratic Alliance’s “anti-people policies and many failures”. General secretary Oscar Fernandes had even sent a circular to all party functionaries asking them to stop trains between 11 am and noon.

But “some very senior leaders” told the Congress chief at a working committee meeting last week of their reservations, saying the agitation could boomerang. They said it would inconvenience and alienate the sizeable middle-class and millions of others commuters who were potential voters.

“At a time when the middle-class is getting disenchanted with the BJP and are on track to return to… the Congress — it would be unwise for the party to do something which could derail that process,” a senior leader had said.

Besides, it was felt that bringing the railway to a grinding halt would not benefit the party electorally, with Assembly elections around the corner.

Sonia could have dismissed the senior leaders’ advice or banished them into political wilderness or even chosen to do nothing. Instead, like a student wishing to learn all the time and draw on her teachers’ wisdom and experience, she deferred to their judgment and dropped the agitation so that commuters were not troubled.

Instead, she announced a new agitational programme which involves protest marches to the Raj Bhavan in all state capitals and to Central government offices in all district headquarters on September 30.

In states where the Congress is in power, Sonia has asked the chief ministers to do the politically correct thing — to stay away from the protest. But in other states, all party leaders, including legislature party members, will join the march.

To ensure the march is a success, Congress functionaries and working committee members will be deputed to the states and pradesh committee leaders will camp in district headquarters to oversee preparations. The objective is to build an effective campaign against the NDA ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Sonia’s change of stand shows she meant what she said when she told the Congress conclave at Shimla in July: “The last five years have been a tremendous learning experience for me and… I am still learning. I consult my colleagues. They are men and women of wide experience.”

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