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Cong raises poll army in Gujarat

Ahmedabad, March 4: The Congress is aggressively building a one-lakh-strong cadre in Gujarat, having realised that the ragtag, faction-ridden party needs an infusion of well-trained “foot soldiers” to take on Narendra Modi.

As a pilot project, the AICC-run, Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru Leadership Institute (JNLI) has undertaken a leadership development programme (LDP) to train ideologically committed grassroots leaders who will be the party’s backbone.

“They will be our foot soldiers, well trained, well groomed, responsible for managing ... 48,000-odd booths in the state,” said Jayrajsinh Parmar, state convener of the LDP.

Some 100 master trainers and 250 coordinators have been trained so far. In all 250 workshops, attended by around 200 to 250 members, are planned. Over 60 workshops have already been conducted and the rest will be completed by the month-end, culminating in an interaction programme with party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is keenly following the leadership scheme in Gujarat.

By the month-end, Congress sources said, the party will be able to unleash this new army of ideologically committed cadres who will be armed with information to counter the BJP’s “propaganda”, especially the “hype” about development in Gujarat.

The objective of the ongoing programme is not only election related, it has a “long-term vision” to be replicated elsewhere in the country, said Parmar.

The master trainers, trained by JNLI joint director Suresh Sharma, are now training others in 233 blocks, eight metros and 33 districts across the state. They are being coached on how to deal with the media, interact with social functionaries and connect with the common man, armed with statistics on UPA II’s achievements.

Those selected for the leadership programme are graduates between 30 and 45.

A section of Gujarat Congress leaders blame the ideological bankruptcy of the Congress for the rise of Modi.

Unless original Congress workers, now sidelined, are given importance in the organisational set-up, the Congress cannot be revived, said Jayesh Shah, a senior leader.

Around 60 Congress leaders, including former ministers, have signed a letter to AICC president Sonia Gandhi seeking the removal of CLP leader Shankersinh Vaghela, alleging that he had colluded with Modi in finishing off the party in Gujarat.

After breaking away from the BJP, Vaghela had merged his outfit RJP with the Congress.

In December 2003, former chief minister and CLP leader Amarsinh Chaudhary had written to Sonia conveying the reservations of party workers about the appointment of former RSS pracharak Vaghela as state unit president. “Vaghela has never uttered a word against Modi... who has become a hero... in the country due to a series of blunders committed by Vaghela,” the letter said.

Chaudhary’s words have proved prophetic. Nearly 11 years later, almost all MLAs loyal to Vaghela have ditched the Congress to rejoin the BJP, fuelling speculation that Vaghela, too, might join the Modi bandwagon.