The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong rethink on rail roko
- Leaders voice caution on middle-class disenchantment

New Delhi, Sept. 2: The “original middle-class party” is wary of rubbing this sizeable section the wrong way on election-eve.

The Congress has thus quietly shelved plans to embark on a countrywide one-hour rail-roko programme on September 22.

The agitation aimed at highlighting the National Democratic Alliance’s “anti-people policies and many failures”.

Oscar Fernandes, a general secretary, had sent a circular to all party functionaries asking them to stop trains across India between 11 am and noon. But today he was not even prepared to confirm that such a circular had been sent.

Fernandes said the Congress was finalising an agitational programme that would be ready in the next two to three days.

Sonia Gandhi was not particularly convinced that bringing the railway to a grinding halt would benefit the party electorally, with Assembly polls round the corner.

Besides, as soon as the circular reached party functionaries, “some very senior leaders” told the party chief of their reservations, saying it could boomerang on the Congress.

“At a time when the middle-class is getting disenchanted with the BJP and are on track to return to their original middle class party — the Congress — it would be unwise for the party to do something which could derail that process,” a senior leader said.

Rail rokos undertaken by smaller parties generally have a smaller, localised impact.

However, if a national party like the Congress were to launch a similar agitation, it would paralyse the rail network and earn the wrath of the travelling public.

The party leadership concluded that the rail roko was not worth the risk of alienating so many potential voters.

Fernandes said the new agitation highlighting NDA failures would probably centre around Sonia’s attack on the government during last month’s no-confidence motion.

Last weekend’s increase in petrol and diesel prices will also find mention, for the party leadership feels the issue will strike a chord with the urban middle-class and farmers.

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