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Cong banks on twin belts
- Gujarat trends keep party on edge, Singh flies into spot of bother

New Delhi, Dec. 17: The Congress believes two regions Ś Saurashtra and the north Ś will decide the outcome of the Gujarat polls.

For the record, the party rubbished the exit poll projections by TV channels. “Exit polls really mean the exit of Narendra Modi and the entry of the Congress,” B.K. Hari Prasad, the general secretary in charge of Gujarat, said.

But certain trends based on feedback from state leaders and “independent” sources have left the Congress worried:

The skewed urban-rural turnout in the second phase. The Congress believes it has the backing of villagers and the less well-off rather than the urban rich, who do not come out to vote in large numbers anyway. But this time, according to the Congress’s information, urban areas have voted much more heavily than villages, with a difference of 3-4 per cent.

Narendra Modi’s high-voltage campaign in the last few days before polling has apparently “surcharged” them.

The Congress’s inference is that the focus of its counter-campaign got a bit muddled down the line with its spokespersons taking seemingly contradictory positions on Sonia Gandhi’s “maut ke saudagar” (merchants of death) phrase.

In the tribal areas, the Congress could not send across the message that the Centre had at last notified the much delayed tribal bill from January 1, 2008. The bill lays down clear guidelines for acquisition of tribal land for special economic zones and industries.

The Congress’s hopes of coming to power Ś for which it will have to get 92 of the 182 seats Ś rests on how “badly” Modi loses in Saurashtra and how “poorly” the party does in north Gujarat.

In 2002, of the 56 Saurashtra seats, the BJP got 38 and the Congress 17. The Congress now hopes for a reversal. “If we get 40-plus in Saurashtra, we have a good base to build on,” a source said. But he admitted that the party’s voter mobilisation was not “up to the mark”.

Of the 49 seats in north Gujarat, the BJP had netted 33 and the Congress 15 in 2002. The Congress hopes to better its tally this time. But with the presence of four rebels, its hunch is it may not be able to retain the earlier number.

The exit polls projected a clean sweep for Modi in north Gujarat. If that happens and he does not lose as heavily in Saurashtra as the Congress is hoping, the party concedes that he would be “home and dry”.

The Congress is looking to improve its showing in the riot-affected central Gujarat where it was all but wiped out the last time. Of the 49 seats, the BJP had bagged 42.

“Even allowing for Modi’s grip over urban areas and our relatively weak party apparatus, we will certainly not remain at seven,” said a source.

The Congress’s tentative conclusion is: “While on paper, the arithmetic is not against us, we have to see how chemistry works.”

Ire on exit polls

The BJP today said the exit polls had downgraded the party’s prospects in Gujarat because they wanted to play it safe.

“We will do very well,” said Arun Jaitley, the party’s general secretary in charge of the state. But he refused to “put a cap” on the number of seats the BJP expected to win.

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