First off the blocks, will Congress’ fortunes change?
An early start and tall electoral promises may not be enough for the Congress to take on ‘strong man’ Narendra Modi, says
IT WAS the first day of Navratri in 2011, when senior Congress leader Shankar Singh Vaghela sought blessings from the Ashapura Mataji temple and the Haji Pir Dargah in Kutch before launching the party’s campaign for the 2013 Gujarat poll. Soon after, the party showed a rare aggressive mood. Party president Arjun Modvadia took on Chief Minister Narendra Modi over alleged “development” and rampant corruption, former deputy chief minister Narhari Amin promised 15 lakh hous- es, and Congress leaders expressed their disgust at the treatment meted out to Keshubhai Patel. On the face of it, the Congress looks in top form for the poll. In reality, has this early start put the party in any kind of advantageous position?
One of the promises of the 12-point “Gujarat People Development Vision 2012”, which the Congress feels will reap rich dividends, is the promise of homes for poor urban women. The promised scheme envisages using about 20 lakh sq m of land lying va- cant with the Gujarat Housing Board ( GHB) to build houses for women who have been living in rented accommodation. More than 40 lakh forms were picked up at eight municipal corporations and 160 municipalities across Gujarat — a response that left even the Congress stunned. At some places, the turnout was so huge that the police had to resort to lathicharge to control the situation.
This is not the only promise the Congress has made. “The value added tax ( VAT) charged by the Modi government is the highest in the country,” says Congress spokesperson Himanshu Vyas. “Let us come to power and we will slash it to a level where the cost of a litre of petrol or diesel will be less than all adjoining states.” Vyas further adds, “To boost education, we will also give free laptops to the students who have been neglected by the Modi government.”
The question is, will the Congress be able to convert these promises into votes? Even senior Congress leaders, who appear enthusiastic on record, are perhaps not so hopeful. According to a senior partyman: “It’s all fine to announce free laptops and houses, but these schemes just create a buzz. The real issue in Gujarat still remains Narendra Modi. If we are not able to expose him or make the people of Gujarat realise that he is taking them for a ride, these promises won’t be of much help.”
Though the Congress seems to be on a much surer footing this time and has been the first off the blocks, the challenges facing the party remain the same: absence of a leader with a pan-Gujarat appeal to take on Modi, and