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Ballot fight on Sonia terms

- No mention of chief minister, focus on governance issues at Rajkot campaign

Rajkot, Oct. 3: Sonia Gandhi launched her party’s election campaign today with a promise to build a “new Gujarat”, signalling that the battle for the state would not be fought on Narendra Modi’s terms.

Addressing a farmers’ rally in drought-hit Saurashtra, the Congress president chose to ignore Modi’s charge that Rs 1,800 crore had been spent on her treatment abroad, side-stepping his attempt to turn the election into a personal battle and instead attacking him on development.

“Who devised the scheme to bring Narmada waters to Gujarat and Saurashtra? The Congress devised it... Nehru had devised it,” she said.

“This significant scheme was devised so that our farmer brothers could benefit from it... but it is unfortunate that in the last 10 years Narmada water has not reached Saurashtra…. I am told farmers have committed suicide because of the crop failure.”

Sonia, also the UPA chairperson, asked the state government to conduct a survey and send a report to the Centre so that farmers could get the insurance amount for the loss of their crops.

According to official data, over 20 farmers have committed suicide in Gujarat because of crop failure linked to deficient rains this year.

The Congress president alleged that attempts were being made to hide the fact that under the UPA government, Gujarat has got 50 per cent more funds than it did when the NDA was in power.

“Some people are very fond of taking all the credit for the development in the state,” Sonia said, in a reference to Modi although she did not name him even once in her speech, perhaps having learnt her lesson in 2007 when a reference to “maut ka saudagar (merchant of death)” in the context of fake encounters had backfired on the Congress.

The UPA chief also defended the Centre’s decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail, describing it as the only way to empower farmers because it would eliminate middlemen. Farmers would get higher prices for their produce, she said.

Questioning opposition to the decision, Sonia said it was up to the states to allow or keep out FDI. “Then why all this hungama (noise)?” she asked.

The UPA chief was also unapologetic about the diesel price increase, saying “difficult economic conditions the world over had necessitated tough decisions in the country”.

“We are facing a challenging situation right now. We have to buy 80 per cent oil from other countries. The UPA government is making efforts to support the people, why cannot the state governments do the same for the people and reduce VAT (value added tax)?” she asked.

Why doesn’t the Gujarat government reduce VAT, she asked, accusing the ruling BJP of “double standards”.

Sonia, whose first stop in Rajkot was a Ramakrishna ashram where she garlanded a statue of Swami Vivekananda, also attacked the Modi government on tribal and Dalit rights.

“We have given rights to tribal families on forest land, why are they not getting the rights in Gujarat?” she asked.

“On demanding their rights, Dalits are showered with bullets here... leaders like Dr Babasahab Ambedkar are not respected,” Sonia alleged.

The UPA chief was dismissive of the BJP’s corruption charges against the Centre, questioning the party’s commitment to fight it.

Yeh log brashtachar ke khilaf nahin, sirf hamare khilaf hain (These people are not against corruption, just against us),” she said, asking why no Lokayukta has been appointed in Gujarat for the last eight years.

The only time Sonia appeared to reply to Modi’s personal attack on her, although she did not directly refer to it, was when she declared: “Whenever we have taken steps in the interest of the nation, there have been all kinds of attacks against us. Neither have we bothered earlier, nor will we worry about them in future.”