The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia team for Modi mission
- Buoyed by BJP broken house, Cong chief gears to take on CM

New Delhi, Aug. 7: Three months ahead of the Gujarat elections, Sonia Gandhi has put her team in place.

Her political secretary, Ahmed Patel, will oversee the operations with his chief aide, B.K. Hari Prasad, a general secretary who has been in charge of Gujarat affairs for a while.

Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Kapil Sibal and Prithviraj Chavan will manage the publicity. Apart from them, no central minister who is not from the state is expected to play a key role.

Among the Gujarat contingent in the central ministry, Shankersinh Vaghela will mind north Gujarat, Narayan Rathwa will look after the south and Dinshaw Patel will manage the campaign in the central region. The Congress suffered a rout in these areas the last time.

No minder has been chosen for Kutch yet but Narhari Amin, president of the Gujarat Cricket Association, will look after Kathiawad.

The Congress president believes that unlike five years ago, the “objective” circumstances “favour” her party this time, a source said. “This is why she is monitoring the preparations from the micro-level.”

Sonia’s own meetings, aimed at specific social sections such as tribals, peasants and veteran Gandhians, have been drawing large crowds.

“But that’s not the only reason for her optimism,” the source said.

The Congress’s spirits are buoyed by the dissidence in the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s reported reluctance to throw its weight behind Narendra Modi, the BJP’s estrangement from caste groups such as the Patels and the Kolis, and a perception that the chief minister’s “Gujarat Shining” agenda ignores the “suffering” masses.

The Congress’s first slogan, which is still to be refined, is based on the last factor. It goes: “The pride of five crore Gujaratis is reposed in just five crorepatis (Reliance, Essar, Adani, Torrent and Nirma).”

Unlike five years ago, when the party was on the defensive as Modi played the “pro-Hindu” card and tirelessly hammered home the “minority appeasement” charge, the Congress’s campaign is likely to revolve around “religion-neutral” themes such as economics and development.

“Gujaratis have a mercantile attitude towards life: everything is seen in credit-debit terms. So our approach has to be fashioned accordingly. We have to tell them they have something to gain by voting for us,” a central functionary said.

So, the Congress will highlight “irrefutable” facts such as the rise in the prices of edible oils and how boom sectors like IT and bio-tech have passed Gujarat by and moved south.

It may even weave in an element of casteism, playing on the Patels’ ambivalence towards the BJP.

“The Patels (who shifted to the BJP in 1995 and never left it since) are not against the BJP but are unable to accept Modi,” a Congress source said.

Modi belongs to the Telli (oil-presser) community, which is listed among the backward castes. His image as “Hindu hriday ka samrat” (monarch of the Hindu heart) remained undented till the Patel revolt.

The intra-party line-up against Modi now includes formidable names like Keshubhai Patel, Praveen Togadia and Gordhan Zadaphia.

The Congress will stick to its tested strategy of not projecting a leader. “We don’t have to compete with Modi,” Hari Prasad said. “We can’t kill 200 Muslims.”

Among the scions of former top leaders Amarsinh Chaudhury, Madhavsinh Solanki and Chimanbhai Patel, only one appears to be in the running. Bharatsinh Solanki may make the cut by virtue of being the state Congress chief.

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