The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia to match a rally for a rally

New Delhi, May 28: Sonia Gandhi has decided to take on the BJP, rally for rally. The battle begins in earnest when the Congress chief reaches the Kashmir Valley on Friday for the party chief ministers’ conclave in Srinagar.

Once the two-day conclave ends, Sonia intends to match Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s Srinagar rally of last month with a much bigger rally of her own. The Sunday rally will be held not in the state capital, but in a town that was a no-go area for VIPs until a few years ago.

Baramullah, 70 km closer to the Line of Control than the capital, is still a sensitive zone and not yet fully militancy-free. Undeterred, Sonia intends to address a public meeting there and has asked all 15 Congress chief ministers to accompany her.

Arguably, Sonia did not need a rally to prove a point to Vajpayee or the BJP. But the Congress leadership felt slighted by the way the media played up Vajpayee’s Srinagar rally.

The Congress chief now wants to use the Baramullah rally and the Srinagar conclave to build a bigger image for her party. “The Congress wants to give the message that Kashmir is part of the Indian mainstream and that the party is the only pan-national political organisation with a presence in every part of India,” party spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said. The presence of so many chief ministers with Sonia will drive home this point.

Quite apart from the larger political message, the Sonia rally will also express the Congress’ resolve to strengthen its roots in the Valley. Lack of support there reduced the Congress to a predominantly Jammu-centred party in the election. The Valley's political prominence made the Congress concede the chief ministership to its coalition partner, the People’s Democratic Party, eight months ago.

Sonia finalised the agenda for the three sessions she will have with the chief ministers with her party general secretaries today. Good governance and development will be the focus.

One thing is clear: the performance of individual chief ministers will not be assessed. “We are against grading chief ministers on the basis of performance,” Reddy said. This is not a surprise considering the party leadership has never paid much attention to grading by private organisations.

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