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Sonia roadshow rolls

Jan. 10: With beeps of an early election getting louder on her radar, Sonia Gandhi soft-launched her party’s campaign by driving out to the dusty plains of western Uttar Pradesh with a message to “destroy” the NDA government.

After her three-day roadshow — an exercise to reach out to people — gets over, she will turn her attention to the party’s election machinery at a meeting of presidents of the district Congress committees in all states.

Mujhe logon se aur kisano se milna hai (I want to meet people and farmers here),” Sonia announced on landing at the makeshift helipad on the grounds of the Khurja polytechnic. “Abhi to shuruwat hai, aur jagah jayenge (this is just the start, I will go to other places as well),” she added.

Two-and-a-half-hours later, at the Circuit House in Bulandshahr, Sonia made her intentions clear. “BJP coalition government ko dhwasth karna hai” would be her message to the people she meets, the Congress president said.

She would talk to various delegations — of local leaders, lawyers and members of the minority community.

But Sonia refused to clear the fog surrounding possible alliances in the state, saying talks were on with all political parties for a pre-poll pact. She did not react to Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh’s refusal to enter into a pact with the Congress.

Local Congress leaders, however, betrayed a hint of gloom, indicating that the partnership with Ajit Singh in 1999 had proved fruitful.

On the 18-km drive from Khurja to Bulandshahr, Sonia stopped the convoy at nine places to interact with people. Sometimes she came out of her Tata Safari to hug and talk to people, to find out their problems; at other times, her cavalcade just stopped briefly so that she could wave to knots of supporters.

An enthusiastic crowd greeted her with garlands and slogans at the stops, but was disappointed as the Congress chief did not make any speeches.

Sonia will leave for Hapur tomorrow and travel to Muzaffarnagar before ending her roadshow at Bagpat on Monday.

She is expected to hold talks with Nationalist Congress chief Sharad Pawar on Tuesday, a day before his party meets to discuss alliance strategies. Pawar’s bid to forge an alliance with the BJP came unstuck when Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray refused to have any truck with him.

The Congress will move into poll gear on January 14 when the district party presidents arrive with feedback on the election machinery. The meeting will also discuss organisational shortcomings and ways to strengthen the party at the grassroots level.

States like Punjab, Kerala, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Uttaranchal are plagued by internal squabbles and the high command wants to restore unity as early as possible.

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