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On poll eve, Congress smells victory

Congress president Sonia turns poll instructor, teaching party MPs how to mark the ballot paper, reports Saroj Nagi. How numbers stack up

india Updated: Jul 19, 2007 11:23 IST
Saroj Nagi

Confident of Pratibha Patil's victory, Congress president Sonia Gandhi turned poll instructor on Wednesday, meeting party MPs in batches over the day and teaching them how to mark the ballot paper.



As she held up the ballot paper where a member has to mark '1' against the name of the candidate of his/her choice — Patil in this case — it took a Haryana MP to reduce the exercise to brass tacks. "We have to put the mark of the

lathi

on it," he said, his face bright with understanding. Sonia recalled that bit of earthy logic when she met the next batch of Members of Parliament, this time from Gujarat. "Oh, Gandhiji's

lathi

," said one of her students.



With more than a dozen parties, accounting for over 6.32 lakh votes in the electoral college, supporting Patil's candidature, the Congress is not worried about cross-voting. Instead, its prime concern is to ensure the ballots are marked properly. And it is not as easy as it may sound. The elector is supposed to mark '1' against his/her candidate's name. Putting a tick mark in the box, spelling out the number, rewriting, overwriting or slashing it would make the vote invalid.



The past fortnight saw Congress leaders fanning across various state capitals, explaining the nitty-gritties of the poll process to electors.



"Don't use your brain. Just do what is being told," one general secretary expressly told the group of members he was in charge of.



Unlike the BJP, which is counting its losses, the Congress' in-house managers wore satisfied smiles at the party's gains. "We have not only worked up the numbers for Patil and put up a united front with our partners, we have also divided the NDA over her candidature, despite the BJP's smear campaign against Patil," said a Congress leader.



Patil, who campaigned in 21 states, did not go to her home state Maharashtra where the Shiv Sena is backing her. "What will happen to our Muslim vote if she is shown with Bal Thackeray," he asked.



Battling BJP's charges of financial irregularities, the Congress ensured that in keeping with the EC's guidelines, Patil did not use any government machinery for campaigning. She flew in private jets, met MPs and MLAs in hotels or party offices and attended dinners — all bankrolled by the Congress.