The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong hears wake-up call, warms up in last lap

New Delhi, April 26: Exit polls predicting a depleted strength for the National Democratic Alliance have buoyed the Congress enough to make a fight of Election 2004.

Unsure of its fate till now, the party leadership has woken up after projections that the Congress and its allies are making significant gains at the cost of the NDA in states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. “We will intensify our campaign from now on,” party spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul and Priyanka will spearhead the intensified campaigning over the next fortnight. “Now that Rahul is free from his own electioneering in Amethi and Priyanka from campaigning for mother Sonia in Rae Bareli, they would be campaigning for the party candidates elsewhere,” said Congress’ media department secretary Tom Vadakkaran.

The unexpectedly good response Rahul received while canvassing outside Amethi has prompted party managers to plan an extensive campaign for him in the state over the next fortnight. “Rahul will surely be coming back to campaign in the state for the remaining two rounds of polls in central and western UP regions,” state Congress spokesman Akhilesh Pratap Singh said.

Priyanka perhaps wanted to leave nothing to chance in her mother’s seat and so she did not visit Andhra Pradesh to address meetings. But she will help out now.

“Depending on where their services would be required, campaign programmes of Rahul and Priyanka would be fixed at a day’s notice,” said a manager in the AICC headquarters.

Besides Uttar Pradesh, where only the first phase of polling was over today, states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where the Congress and BJP are in direct contest are yet to go to the polls. States like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Haryana and Punjab will also feature in the last two phases.

A good performance in these states is crucial for the Congress and will enhance its chances of regaining power at the Centre with the help of its current allies and potential post-poll allies in the Left bloc.

Reddy rubbished projections that still give the NDA an edge. “Our own assessments are different from what these exit polls would suggest.” The Congress and its allies will be in a position to form the government. “We do not think we will require the assistance of the parties like Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party,” Reddy said.

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