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At the Cong HQ: Hope turns to despair
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Ahmedabad | December 23, 2007 12:37 IST
At 8.30 am on Sunday morning, Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee President Bharat Solanki walked into the Congress headquarters in Ahmedabad.
Solanki greeted the assembled reporters and said, "We are winning and forming the government. We are neck and neck with the Bharatiya Janata Party. They are leading in 12 seats and we too are leading in 12."
Around 100 Congress workers and supporters were glued to the television sets and hooked on to the Election Commission Web site. All were confident and felt the Congress would form the government. The Congress has been out of power in Gujarat for the past 17 years.
With the Electronic Voting Machines having made things easier, the results were pouring in non-stop.
Raju Chauhan, a Congress worker commented, "This is a 20-20 cricket match. The results are coming so soon that in two hours we will win the match."
Brave words. The truth was to hit Chauhan and others very soon.
9 am. BJP: 64; Congress: 45
Asked what he felt the outcome would be, Jayesh Prajapati, another Congress leader, said, "We are winning. This is just the initial counting. There are 14 rounds and the trends will be reversed."
Tea and samosas were being served to hungry workers who had been campaigning since November.
Kalpesh Desai, a Congress worker, said, "Modi is a liar. He has spread venom in society. He has polarised Gujarati society and this election will be his Waterloo."
"He has repeatedly told Gujarati Hindus that they will be safe only if he is ruling the state. Many believe that and it is unfortunate that some of them believe the Congress is a pro-Muslim party," he added.
Asked about the development work done by Modi, Desai said, "It is only on paper. Modi has fooled the people and you will see that when he loses this time."
The television screen caught his attention. "You see Jamalpur constituency of Ahmedabad, we are leading by 10,000 votes," he said. Soon there was much cheer in the room. It was short lived as the overall leads flashed, showing the BJP pulling away.
9.21 am. BJP: 95; Congress: 51
Are you still confident the Congress can form the government, I asked Bharat Patel, a worker sitting next to me. "This is an election. A reversal is always possible. You wait. things will change," he said sans any optimism in his voice.
Suddenly, a party worker following the Election Commission Web site said, "You see this site. They are saying the BJP is 64 and the Congress is 49. We are behind just by 15 seats."
"You see... the Election Commission Web site is authentic and is more reliable than television channels," Bharat Patel told me.
Another worker said in jest: "If we fall short by 15 seats, our leader Shankarsinh Vaghela will break the BJP and form the government." The ensuing laughter captured the mood in the Congress.
However, soon the Election Web site too began reflecting the BJP lead.
10 am. BJP 100; Congress 50
For the first time reality began to hit the Congress workers.
The television showed the BJP to be way ahead of Congress as it crossed the simple majority mark of 92.
Said Manish Doshi, "We will not lose hope and wait till the last vote is counted."
Again brave words, but the Congress workers knew they had missed the boat. It was becoming clear that the BJP and Narendra Modi [Images] would form the next government.
Bharat Solanki disappeared and so did all the leaders of the party.
Suresh Vaghela, a Congress worker, said, "It is difficult to defeat Modi in Gujarat. He is a one man show. He attended 150 meetings and campaigned tirelessly by holding eight meetings a day."
"We thought we would benefit from the Keshubhai Patel factor in Saurashtra," he added, "but that proved to be wrong. BJP rebels did not make a dent in Modi's prospects."
11 am. BJP 120; Congress 58
The Congress workers started moving out of the party office and the crowd thinned.
There were no firecrackers as television journalists looked around in vain for Congress leaders who could comment on the debacle.