Emulating family, Sonia hits the road to charm voters
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Emulating family, Sonia hits the road to charm voters

While jury is out on her chances of becoming PM, Cong chief has hit the roads to reach out to the people in tradition of past PMs in family.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2003 15:16 IST

While the jury is out on her chances of becoming India's prime minister, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi has hit the roads to reach out to the people in the tradition of past prime ministers in the family.

Gandhi, whose party faces elections in four key states ruled by it soon, is travelling the bumpy and dust-laden roads of northern India to establish a direct rapport with voters and deal with misgivings about her foreign origin.

To many Congress leaders it is a campaign reminiscent of Gandhi's mother-in-law Indira Gandhi, who ruled India for 16 years and is believed by some to be the last politician to enjoy a pan-Indian following.

The Italy-born mother of two had also accompanied her late husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi - who died in 1991 - on his campaign trail.

"The Jan Sampark (public contact) programme to establish a direct contact with citizens has drawn an immense response from the people," said a Congress leader who accompanied her to Rajasthan this month.

The leader added: "Contrary to what BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) thinks or is trying to project, Gandhi's foreign origin is not an issue with people. They see her as a true Indian."

In course of the programme, formulated during the party's conclave at a holiday resort in Himachal Pradesh in July, Gandhi has visited Rajasthan and is preparing to tour Madhya Pradesh on September 29 and 30.

She will also go to Chhattisgarh, and later do a quick tour of Delhi, where she has already addressed two mammoth public meetings.

With assembly elections barely two months away in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, the party has merged the Jan Sampark with Gandhi's poll campaign.

Gandhi launched her road show in Rajasthan September 15, travelling some 600 kilometres and making nearly 40 roadside stops to be with the ordinary people and announce her readiness to do something for them.

Unmindful of security restrictions, she plunged into the midst of villagers and did not flinch when the women and children tugged at her hand-woven cotton sari demurely pulled over her head like that of an Indian daughter-in-law.

When she heard locals rant against the Congress government, she turned to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and asked him to do the needful. Taking a small cavalcade, she travelled from little known hamlets to historic cities.

The campaign is sputtering through the desert state amid the party's fears about an anti-incumbency sentiment fanned by BJP leader Vasundhara Raje Scindia's election rallies.

A survey by the Congress indicates the party faces an uphill task in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. While Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi is in a somewhat better position, Delhi is the only state that the party can bank on winning.

Gandhi, who plunged into politics in 1998 and has helped the Congress to consolidate since becoming its president the next year, is aware that she needs to win in at least two of the four states.

If she fails, the Congress - and she herself - would be approaching the Lok Sabha elections next year with a shattered morale, after having worsted the BJP in every state election since 1998 barring in Gujarat.

First Published: Oct 13, 2003 15:16 IST