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

Tehelka - - 20 - BRI­JESH PANDEY

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

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