The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stunned Sonia scouts for Gujarat-model antidote

New Delhi, Dec. 15: As Sonia Gandhi read a note summing up the election results, the worry lines on her forehead deepened. The paper in front of her, submitted by Congress general secretary in charge of Gujarat Kamal Nath, said: The Congress did not win a single seat within a 100-km radius of Godhra, where a coach of the Sabarmati Express was set ablaze on February 27, killing 58.

Out of 65 seats that fell in areas affected by the riots, the BJP won 53.

At Sayajigunj in the heart of Vadodara, the Congress had won the Assembly by-election on February 24 by over 20,000 votes. Today, it lost by over 90,000 votes.

In Sabarmati, the Congress had won by 22,000 votes 15 months ago. Today, party heavyweight and former deputy chief minister Narhari Amin was trounced by over 70,000 votes.

In seats farther from Godhra, the Congress posted comfortable victories. Ironically, despite a strong Hindutva wave, the Congress won in the temple towns of Somnath, Dwarka and Ambaji.

Wherever there were 25,000 or more Muslim voters, the Congress nominees generally lost as part of “profound polarisation” on communal lines.

The Congress lost all seats bordering Madhya Pradesh, which is headed for elections next year.

The Congress’ KHAM (Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim) combination failed to take off as Kshatriyas — the community its state chief Shankersinh Vaghela belongs to — ensured the defeat of his son Mahendrasinh. The silent Hindutva wave transcended Patel, Kshatriya and other caste combinations.

The Congress fared badly in all tribal seats, taking a hit in the entire stretch from Chhota Udaipur, Panchmahal and Dahod up to Vadodara. The party lost seats even where there was no dispute over ticket distribution. The defeat of MP Dinsha Patel, Narhari Amin, Sidhartha Patel and Naresh Raval is proof.

The message from Nath’s note on the Gujarat results thus went beyond the boundaries of the state. If “Modi-isation” spreads to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, Sonia has no recipe to tackle it. The Congress president telephoned party chief ministers, asking them to be more vigilant. “We have a challenge before us,” she said.

For Sonia’s managers, the biggest problem is how to prevent the “Gujarat-model” from being replicated in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh.

Of these, barring Himachal, all are ruled by the Congress. If the party fails to retain these states, questions could be raised about Sonia’s leadership ability. In terms of numbers, too, the Congress would have a daunting task, as it is a spent force in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) is meeting on Tuesday to take stock of these issues. But nothing much is expected. Indicating the mood in the party, a senior CWC member said: “The problem is that we know what the problem is but we do not know what the solution is.”

For Congressmen, there is now a question mark over whether their “Prime Minister-in-waiting” will make it in Delhi in the near future. At the 24 Akbar Road headquarters of the party, the unanimous view was that after the Gujarat verdict, politics would not be the same in the country. Some of Sonia’s managers fear that if Hindutva forces gain currency at the national level, partymen could start viewing her as a liability.

Perhaps it was a combination of these factors that prompted Sonia to skip lunch today. She did not see any visitors till 4 pm.

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