The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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To Mt Abu, en route to Gujarat

New Delhi, Nov. 4: From the minefield of Kashmir to the staging area of Mount Abu.

The political acumen Sonia displayed in making a coalition government possible in Jammu and Kashmir is expected to take on a sharper edge when she meets chief ministers of 14 Congress-ruled states at the Rajasthan hill resort conclave on November 8 and 9.

An assertive Sonia is scheduled to demand good governance, accountability and better delivery system in the states ruled by her party.

She will also formulate the party’s strategy for the Gujarat Assembly election, which is being seen as a decisive battle between secularism and divisive politics.

The Congress president is likely to rope in the services of chief ministers Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Digvijay Singh (Madhya Pradesh) and Vilasrao Deshmukh (Maharashtra). The three chief ministers will be assigned the districts of Gujarat bordering their respective states.

But internal assessments that Gujarat is still difficult to wrest from Narendra Modi will weigh heavily on Sonia’s mind as she heads for Mount Abu. An internal survey, feedback and an observers’ report have given the party 50 per cent chance in Gujarat.

But Sonia feels that if the party succeeds in showcasing good governance in the 14 states, Gujarat voters would have reasons to rise above religious or caste considerations.

Against this background, the Mount Abu conclave would be a stormy affair as functioning of the Congress-ruled states will come under close scrutiny.

Host Gehlot will have to explain reports of starvation deaths in Kota. Gehlot has prepared a lengthy defence saying media reports were exaggerated and that most deaths occurred due to malaria. He will submit a report drafted by three “independent doctors” to back up his claim.

However, for Sonia and the Congress Working Committee members, the starvation death controversy was a “blot” on party’s image. Gehlot is expected to come under severe criticism on this count. Rajasthan is also scheduled to go to polls along with Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram in November 2003.

Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh will draw flak over riots in Aurangabad and Sholapur. S.M. Krishna of Karnataka will have to explain why he has so far failed to secure release of former state minister Nagappa from the clutches of Veerappan.

His Assam counterpart Tarun Gogoi will be quizzed over the growing cult of violence in the state. Gogoi was not keeping well for some time but the AICC chief is in no mood to make more concessions.

But the chief ministers of Delhi and Punjab are likely to win applause. Amarinder Singh will be lauded for his ability to push through power sector reforms in Punjab in spite of political compulsions.

Amarinder’s crusade against corruption in high places will also be acknowledged. Similarly, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit’s successful bid to privatise power and improve its delivery system would be used as a role model for other states.

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