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Sonia’s spring of discontent
Hands-off style comes in glare

New Delhi, Feb. 27: Voices in the Congress are asking if the results in Punjab and Uttarakhand would have been different today had Sonia Gandhi been more “pro-active”.

The party was voted out of power in results which the Congress chief said were “more or less on expected lines”.

Why could she not have met workers more regularly to get an “honest” feedback, it was asked.

One of the complaints against Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh was that he was not accessible and the workers were waiting for their chance to “hit” at him.

In the two months before the polls, the party headquarters was choc-a-bloc with Punjab workers. The best they could manage was to meet Janardhan Dwivedi, who was in charge of the state, or Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel.

Ditto with Uttarakhand, where Sonia remained aloof to the open spat between chief minister N.D. Tiwari and state party chief Harish Rawat. Matters reached a point where chief ministerial aspirant Satpal Maharaj refused to share the dais with them even when Sonia was present. Again Sonia trusted Motilal Vora, who was in charge of the state.

But when she suggested that today’s verdict was expected, she must have been talking of her own instincts because both Dwivedi and Vora had said things were going great guns. “Look at the great work done by Tiwariji. It will be a positive vote,” Vora repeated over and over.

The aborted Operation Topple Mulayam hurt the Congress in Uttarakhand, sources said, with Muslims in Terai voting for the BSP or the Samajwadi Party in protest. “Whoever advised Madam had no idea of the ground realities,” a functionary said, though a section of the Congress insisted it was Sonia who wanted the dismissal.

“It might be her spring of discontent and the BJP’s spring of hope,” said an MP from Maharashtra.

Smoke in Congress eyes: A BJP activist celebrates. (PTI)

The Congress’s bad luck started last autumn with the local bodies’ elections in Uttar Pradesh. Although the party made unexpected gains in Jhansi and Allahabad, its showing in Rae Bareli and Amethi — the Nehru-Gandhi borough — was unimpressive.

Winter brought bad tidings from Maharashtra. Again, the defeat in the municipal elections was the Congress’s own fault. The Opposition BJP-Shiv Sena had been in a shambles after the split in the Thackeray clan and the death of Pramod Mahajan.

But Sonia was “advised” to fight solo, without the NCP “baggage”, so that the respective “strengths” of the two parties would be tested. The gambit backfired.

Municipal polls are coming up in Delhi, and the timing couldn’t have been worse. Vegetable and milk prices are up, traders have been dealt the ceiling blow, slums have been demolished and civic infrastructure in the less well-heeled areas is on the verge of collapse.

In the summer, it will be poll time in Uttar Pradesh where the Congress only hopes to take its tally from 25 to 40. Goa, where it has a government, goes to polls in May. With chances of the Congress-NCP alliance sticking together slim, it could be advantage BJP.

Audacious as it sounds, the Congress hopes Gujarat will break the jinx in November.

Sonia is expected to invest a lot of time and energy in this state. “She hasn’t forgotten the personal insults hurtled at her and Rahul by Narendra Modi in 2004,” a central leader said.

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