The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Party cool to Sonia’s grassroots drive

New Delhi, Oct. 7: Four years after taking over as Congress chief, Sonia Gandhi has hit upon the idea of interacting with “grassroot workers” after continuing feedback that the leadership is getting more and more alienated from the masses.

From October 10, Sonia will meet partymen under the “Ek din Congress adhyaksha ke saath” programme. She will cover Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan before moving on to Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and other states where Assembly polls are due by the end of next year.

Sonia’s plans are, however, being viewed with scepticism at the party’s 24 Akbar Road headquarters. Critics said several road shows, padayatras and mass contact programmes had been announced in the past but were seldom undertaken.

The feedback from Uttar Pradesh was also lukewarm with a section of party leaders terming it a case of “too little too late”. The Sonia thinktank is reportedly rattled by the Mayavati-Advani show of strength in Lucknow recently.

“Sonia and her advisers have suddenly realised that the social engineering based on the Mayavati-Advani combination may prove to be too good to counter. Hence, the meeting in Mathura,” a former state minister said.

According to the programme, Sonia will be in Mathura on October 10. The next two days she will be in Rajasthan.

AICC officials disagreed that Sonia’s proposed trip to Uttar Pradesh was a case of “too little too late”. An AICC general secretary said: “She is a proven crowd-puller and vote-catcher. We are confident that by the time general elections are held, the Congress would regain its lost glory in Uttar Pradesh.”

But Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders said Sonia should have begun her “direct contact” programme a long time ago. “There was a time when she generated a great deal of interest in Uttar Pradesh. Today, unfortunately the same cannot be said,” a former UPCC functionary said, adding that delay and inaction by Sonia had crippled the state unit.

He added that an occasional visit or a “holy dip” at Kumbh cut little ice with the people. Recalling the number of tours and district meetings that had been announced but called off, he said: “Once she travelled by train from Delhi to Padraona in eastern Uttar Pradesh. She said she would be travelling more and more by train or road. The Mathura meet comes two years after. If that is the speed, I shudder to think what will happen to the Congress in Uttar Pradesh,” he said.

During her Mathura trip, Sonia will visit several temples and meet locals and religious leaders. Later this month, she plans to travel to eastern Uttar Pradesh where the Congress received its worst drubbing in the recent Assembly polls. Out of 403 seats it contested, Congress forfeited deposits in 335.

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