The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong feels good & young

New Delhi, Jan. 16: A combative Sonia Gandhi today dismissed the BJP-NDA claim of a “feel-good factor”, saying it did not exist at the ground level. On the contrary, she said, the “feel-good factor” could be sensed in the Congress.

The Congress president also laughed at the “youthful look” of the BJP, calling it a “maya jaal” created by the party.

In a rare media appearance after a meeting of party chief ministers, state unit chiefs and legislature party leaders here today, Sonia said the Congress has plenty of young leaders. She was asked if she was planning to revamp the party to give it a new, young look.

Apparently irked with the projection in the media of a young BJP team that surprised everyone by winning the elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, Sonia said: “This is a maya jaal the other side is trying to spread about us. You see their photographs and tell me how many are young. Our party has plenty of second-rung people. There is less focus on them because they are not ministers or in the government.”

The Congress president, however, said there will be “chhota mota” changes. On Wednesday, the state unit chiefs of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Orissa were replaced.

Sonia, who was briefed on the political situation in each state by the local leaders, said there is great deal of enthusiasm among Congressmen. “I am satisfied,” she said. “I myself felt encouraged when I recently visited western Uttar Pradesh.”

Contrary to the BJP-NDA hype, there was no feel-good factor at the ground level, the Congress chief iterated. Although western Uttar Pradesh was a wealthy area of the state, she saw unhappiness among people, especially farmers and educated youth.

The Congress will focus its poll campaign on these issues, she said, expressing confidence that the NDA’s election-eve sops would not fool the people.

Asked if there is “feel-good” in the Congress, she replied: “I do think so.” Sonia said she was still talking to leaders of like-minded parties, and a common minimum programme would be worked out before the polls.

After her meeting with Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar last night, Sonia today sent senior leader Manmohan Singh to continue the talks. On January 8, Manmohan had met DMK chief M. Karunanidhi in Chennai.

Sonia skirted a query on who would lead the alliance, saying there was still time to discuss the issue. On whether the party is talking to Rashtriya Kranti Party chief Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh, she said: “We have not taken a decision.” When the question was repeated, she said: “I said I am talking to everybody.”

Today’s meeting called for early selection of candidates and identification of seats to be contested, in alliance with like-minded parties, as this would help in effective campaigning.

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