Congress buoyant after Sonia Gandhi show

Ahmedabad, Nov 5 (IANS) Gujarat’s make-or-break elections are still a month away. But the Congress is already buoyant, after seeing the popular response to its rallies by Sonia Gandhi.

Despite the many hiccups along the way, Congress leaders say that the huge attendance at Gandhi’s first campaign rally at Vaghasia town in Anand district Saturday is a pointer of things to come.

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The women in particular who thronged to Gandhi’s rally despite a blistering sun – and also three other meetings earlier this year — appear to have made up their minds to vote for the Congress.

An IANS correspondent who mingled with the crowds was told by several women that they were determined to back the Congress this time. Said a woman from Nadidad: “In all our villages we will support the Congress.”

Asked why they were attending the rally, the response of most women was: “We have come to hear Sonia Gandhi.”

Central Gujarat, stretching from Godhra and Dahod in Panchamahals district to Vadodara and Anand districts, has been traditionally a Congress stronghold. But in 2002, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept 26 of the 42 assembly seats in the region, a performance that helped Chief Minister Narendra Modi to secure an overwhelming majority in the 182-member house.

That election’s outcome was widely credited to communal polarization. Now that seems to be changing.

Even the May rally of farmers Gandhi addressed in May in Mehsana stunned the state Congress leaders because the attendance was beyond their expectations.

The way farmers turned up in their bullock carts and tractors betrayed more than a hint of their simmering dissatisfaction over what they called the apathy of the government over inadequacy of power and non-availability of fertilizers.

Later, in June, the Congress held another rally in the tribal belt of Gujarat. It was an attempt to woo back the tribals who had drifted to the BJP during the December 2002 elections.

The tribal rally was such a success that Modi hurriedly responded by announcing a huge development package for the tribal population, which is among the poorest in the state.

Congress leaders admit that only a sharp swing away from the BJP can help the party to regain power in Gujarat, which the BJP has ruled for over a decade. The Congress won just 51 seats in the 2002 elections.