The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Laloo logic: Not too much of Sonia, please

New Delhi, Jan. 16: Laloo Prasad Yadav has reportedly asked the Congress to keep its election campaign in Bihar 'low-key' and not use Sonia Gandhi 'overmuch'.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal apprehends that a 'highly visible' Sonia could end up 'confusing' the Muslim voters in the constituencies where the Congress is engaged in a 'friendly' fight with Laloo Prasad's party.

Sources in the RJD and the Congress also ruled out the chances of a joint campaign by Laloo Prasad and Sonia. They said that if Sonia obliged the railway minister, she would also have to accede to Ram Vilas Paswan's request for a similar show.

While stating that the details of Sonia's Bihar campaign have to be finalised, a senior Congress leader said: 'It will be to the extent that the 80 seats we are fighting will be fairly well covered because there is pressure from each contestant on the party president to put in an appearance.'

The objective behind 'calibrating' Sonia's appearances, the sources said, was two-fold. If she went on a campaign offensive, it may give the idea that the Congress was 'well and truly' serious about taking on the RJD and raise the workers' expectations.

'This is the point at which the campaign could turn nasty. We don't want this because Laloo Prasad is a very important constituent of the UPA,' a source said.

Second, big rallies would mean giving lengthy speeches, which would have to focus on the performance of the state government. 'There is no question of attacking the Rabri Devi government because we are part of it,' said a senior Congress leader.

The sources indicated that unlike Jharkhand ' where the Congress' stakes are high and where Sonia is likely to repeat her 'Jan Sampark Abhiyaan' (mass contact campaign) ' she may confine herself to a few public meetings in Bihar. 'The idea of fighting 80 seats is to retain our base and not anger our workers. It is certainly not to split the secular vote,' a Congress leader added. From the Centre, Arjun Singh and Mohsina Kidwai are likely to address the maximum number of public meetings.

The AICC is also working out the details of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's campaign. Sources said he, too, is likely to be used more in Jharkhand than Bihar because of the big Sikh population in the former.

While Paswan is expected to lash out at Laloo Prasad as well as the NDA, Congress sources clarified that the target of their campaign would be the BJP-Janata Dal (United).

The Congress is likely to release its manifestos in a couple of days. The sources said that in Bihar, the focus would be on 'development' and 'secularism'. 'We will talk of the pro-poor work done by the Centre and emphasise the need for more development in Bihar,' they added.

Some BJP leaders have been suggesting that there would be a three-way split in the 'secular' vote if Sonia campaigned intensively.

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