Congress president Sonia Gandhi is leaving nothing to chance for the Gujarat assembly election. In the last fortnight, the woman who was once called the Sphinx has been readily accessible to Congressmen from the state. Not only has she granted appointments to all visitors from Gujarat, she is keeping track of the political trends in tribal areas, the casteism in Saurashtra, and the combinations of other backward classes in different districts.
And why not! The latest survey conducted by a private agency gives her party 87 seats out of 182 in Gujarat, a dramatic improvement over earlier estimates, which had predicted a debacle for the Congress.
According to a top Congress source in New Delhi, the survey, which was presented to Gandhi last week, gave 92 seats to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
The source told rediff.com that "the Congress is rejuvenated and we believe Gujaratis have understood the economic cost of riots and communalism".
He added, "Even political analysts and neutral observers like K P S Gill [former security adviser to Chief Minister Narendra Modi] have been saying that the Congress has an edge. We believe the Gujarat election will be a 'touch and go' affair." (Gill, who was posted in Gujarat briefly after the riots earlier this year, refused to comment on the subject.)
An office-bearer of the Gujarat Congress and three-time member of the assembly said, "We know that if we gift Gujarat to Sonia Gandhi, India will be in her pocket. [Jo ame Gujarat Sonia ne jita ne daiye to Hindustan tena khissama che!]
On Monday the party will kick-off its election campaigns in Gujarat with a rally at Karamsad, the birthplace of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
Next week, the Congress is planning to make public a 'charge sheet' against the ruling party's misdeeds in Ahmedabad.
State Congress president Shankersinh Vaghela's confidant and Member of Parliament Madhusudan Mistry has prepared a fifty-page charge sheet listing the unfulfilled promises and instances of non-governance by the BJP in the last four and a half years. Even if one discounts the opposition bias, the allegations do carry some weight.
In 1998 the BJP had come to power with the promise of eradicating fear, hunger, and corruption. The Congress alleges, however, that Gujaratis are not any safer under BJP rule. In fact, the situation is worse than before for some sections like dalits and religious minorities. Gujarat ranks fourth in the national averages in atrocities against dalits with 892 crimes in 2002, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
In 1998, when the BJP had published an action plan for the unemployed youths of Gujarat, the state had 7.02 lakh people who were educated and unemployed. By 2001, the number increased to 8.95 lakh. And the general rate of unemployment increased by 29.89 per cent. According to state government figures, Gujarat now has 12.06 lakh unemployed people.
The BJP had also promised preference in employment for the so-called sons of the soil. But in Ahmedabad, the steel business employs 62 per cent non-Gujaratis. In Vapi, the paper industry has 90 per cent non-Gujarati labour. Baroda's chemical industry has 77 per cent outsiders and the ship-breaking yards in the state, more than 87 per cent.
In view of the low level of Gujarati presence in the armed forces, the BJP had also promised that it would set up armed forces training colleges in Radhanpur and Shamlaji. This promise has remained unfulfilled too.
During BJP rule the most glaring problem has been the state's fiscal situation. Over the last year, the government has had to resort to the overdraft facility 21 times. Thanks to the riots earlier this year, Gujarat's monthly revenues have come down to Rs 175 crore [approximately US $36.08 million] from around Rs 500 crore [$103.09 million], the Congress claims. The state has a budgetary deficit to the tune of Rs 8,000 crore [$1.65 billion].
Thanks to the disturbances, Gujarat has collected almost 12.80 per cent less sales tax compared to the pre-riots months.
In Gujarat, the BJP could get an absolute majority in the last election because the word 'Congress' had become synonymous with corruption. But now the Congress alleges that in the last three years of BJP rule, corruption cases have increased 45 per cent. The Gujarat Vigilance Commission is registering 10 new cases against the government and its employees every day, the opposition party says.
The Congress has also listed eight major corruption cases, including in the backward classes school uniform schemes, the resettlement of Narmada Dam oustees, management of earthquake relief in Kutch and Saurashtra, purchase of meters by the Gujarat State Electricity Board, and in the co-operative banking sector. According to official figures, more than 3,527 cases of corruption have been filed against state government officials in the last three years.
Gujarat's 60 lakh farmers were promised the moon by the BJP before it came to power. "Har khet ko pani" (water for every farm), compensation in case of failure of rain, and a raise in the limits of farm insurance up to Rs 10,000 were among these.
But the Congress says that in the last four years more than 150 announcements favouring farmers have been made, but without any follow-up. After 2001 the government has not even paid crop insurance money to farmers. In cases where the government came forward to help farmers, it indulged in corruption.
But the BJP government's biggest failure has been its inability to provide electricity to farmers for nine hours a day, a promise it had made repeatedly. The state faces a deficit of 2,098 megawatts and is able to provide just five hours of supply. It has also mismanaged the planning and construction of nine power projects, as a result of which Gujarat purchases almost 45 per cent of its energy requirement from other states. In turn Gujarat's contribution to the national agricultural production has reduced.
Clearly, the polarisation of Hindu and Muslim voters is not going to be the only electoral issue in Gujarat.
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