The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong gears up workers for poll

New Delhi, March 9: Not leaving anything to chance after the defeat in Gujarat and to put itself in poll mode, the Congress today began galvanising party apparatus at the grassroots level with a meeting of state presidents and AICC functionaries.

A detailed report on the discussion will be submitted to party chief Sonia Gandhi later.

Sonia has for the first time convened a meeting of 10,000 grassroots workers, including 9,000-odd block presidents and district presidents, in Delhi on March 28 and 29. A public rally will follow on March 30.

In the run-up to the Delhi meet, senior AICC leaders have already begun group and individual meetings with block presidents in various states.

The Congress is the only party that has a unit in every block of the country.

The grassroots mobilisation is part of the party’s efforts to strengthen a counter-strategy against the BJP brand of Hindutva and cultural nationalism.

The Himachal Pradesh input shows that despite the BJP making terrorism and security a poll plank, the people of the state (with 98 per cent Hindus) rejected the saffron party’s propaganda.

In Jammu, another Sangh stronghold, the BJP won only one seat. At the same time, Congress managers want a counter-strategy in place for the “likes of (VHP’s Praveen) Togadia”.

According to party sources, Sonia, enthused by the Congress’ victory in Himachal, has told party chief ministers to ensure “a responsive and transparent” government that can blunt anti-incumbency, if any, in the 15 Congress-ruled states.

Though the party is concerned about the success of the BJP’s Gujarat experiment, its assessment is that the experiment would not work elsewhere.

Asked if the Congress was concerned about the Sangh type of Hindutva, Ambika Soni, political secretary to Sonia, said: “You need a vibrant, strongly-entrenched political instrument to combat it. People in general are secular, and secular forces will stand united and take head on the divisive propaganda.”

The meeting that lasted late into the night discussed the prevailing political situation in each state and the need to strengthen the Congress to face the BJP and the NDA, especially in the four states going to polls late this year and the Lok Sabha polls next year.

Soni said the March 30 rally will focus on the “total failure” of the NDA government. According to her, “growing unemployment, farmers’ woes which were aggravated by a harsh budget, atrocities on women and Dalits, hollow promises made by the BJP-led government to provide one crore jobs, discrimination of Congress-ruled states in providing drought relief” will be the highlights.

Talking to reporters midway through the meeting, Soni said some state unit presidents expressed concern over the BJP’s and the Sangh’s attempts to vitiate the atmosphere in states.

“In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the VHP and other parivar outfits are trying to divide society. We have capable chief ministers. But we know we have to be careful,” Soni said.

The BJP, she said, was getting desperate as its attempts to rake up divisive issues such as the Bhojshala dispute and conversion were not working.

The Congress is also banking on infighting in the rival camps in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to craft a victory in the coming polls in these states.

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