The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong mood lifts on Sonia rally-eve

Calcutta, Feb. 9: The mood is upbeat in the listless state Congress with barely 24 hours to go for Sonia Gandhi’s rally at the Brigade Parade Ground.

Sonia, who last addressed a meeting in Calcutta in 1998, will meet key state Congress leaders before formally kicking off the party’s campaign for the panchayat elections slated for May. She held rallies only in the districts during her last visit to the state before the Assembly elections in 2001.

Leaders of the state unit, hamstrung by a poor organisational network, seemed jubilant through the day. Some were “optimistic” about the return of some of their colleagues who had flocked to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress before the Assembly elections.

With Somen Mitra by his side, state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee today announced at the party office that the rally would be a “mammoth” affair with people from far-flung districts attending. Sonia would give a call for strengthening the party organisation so that it could counter the BJP’s communal politics as well as the Left Front’s “misrule” in Bengal.

“The danger to the country’s secular fabric due to the BJP’s communal politics and a reign of terror unleashed by the ruling communists in Bengal will top the agenda for tomorrow’s Brigade rally,” Mukherjee said.

Vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya said Sonia’s visit will act as a “morale booster” for the party rank and file that has been in a disarray since the poor faring at the Assembly elections. “Sonia’s visit in the run up to the panchayat elections will not only help us reach the rural populace but also isolate Mamata’s Trinamul Congress from them,” he said.

Sonia will fly in around 11 am and go straight to the Raj Bhavan. She will reach the ground around 2 pm and leave for the airport in the evening.

Party leaders claimed that hundreds of supporters from the north Bengal districts had started pouring in. “Activists from the adjoining districts will come tomorrow,” Mukherjee said.

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