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archive: 'Sonia's running scared of losing in Amethi'

'Sonia's running scared of losing in Amethi'

Amberish K Diwanji
August 18, 1999

    Title: 'Sonia's running scared of losing in Amethi'
    Author: Amberish K Diwanji
    Publication: Rediff
    Date: August 18, 1999
    So what was all that drama about Congress president Sonia Gandhi contesting from
    this, that and the other constituency?
    Ask Congress leaders and you get nothing satisfactory. Try again, ask them why Gandhi
    went for Bellary when Amethi, her late husband's constituency, is ready and waiting.
    Was it because that constituency goes to the polls in the latter part of September
    and, so, there's still time to file her papers? In any case, why all the secrecy
    about Gandhi's constituency?
    "We must be allowed to decide when we want to give the news," said Pranab Mukherjee.
    He said the Congress had no intention of misleading the media, and admitted that the
    leader in Andhra Pradesh who announced that Gandhi was contesting from Cuddapah had
    done wrong.
    "Our intention was to keep it a secret, not give out wrong information," he
    Another Congress leader said that what the party wanted to show was Gandhi's
    pan-Indian identity and that Indians anywhere would vote for her regardless of the
    questions raised by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
    "She will win in Bellary and in Amethi, and with these two victories, we can tell the
    people that Gandhi is acceptable to people across the country," he said. "Is there
    any BJP leader who can do the same?" 
    Congress leaders claimed that it was not the fear of losing in Amethi that prompted
    Gandhi to contest from Bellary. "Even BJP leaders have contested from two
    constituencies in the past," said Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal.
    The BJP, however, insisted that that was the reason why Gandhi flew to Bellary. "She
    is running scared of losing in Amethi," an official said. "Sanjay Singh, who is
    contesting on a BJP ticket, has worked hard there and has every chance of winning."
    Be that what it is, if the Congress's purpose was to surprise the enemy camp, it
    failed miserably. The BJP got wind of the plan late last night and immediately
    nominated party spokesperson Sushma Swaraj. Which was how Swaraj took off immediately
    to Bangalore and from there, on Wednesday morning, by helicopter to Bellary to file
    her papers.
    Incidentally, Swaraj had earlier said she would not contest the election as she
    wanted to devote more time to party affairs. A BJP statement said it was in deference
    to the wishes of the party leaders that she had agreed to face Gandhi.
    Political observers, however, point out another possibility: that the BJP had held
    back Swaraj to oppose Gandhi. In which case, the talk of her not contesting was to
    mislead the Congress.
    Sources said another person who was keen to face Gandhi, a move that has immense
    publicity value, was Uma Bharati but the leadership turned her down.
    Though the Congress insisted that Swaraj's candidature would have no effect on
    Gandhi's chances, the BJP move could well pay off. The saffron party's plan is clear:
    a desi beti versus a videshi bahu, or an Indian daughter versus a foreign
    A statement from BJP general secretary Narendra Modi made this clear when it said the
    party had fielded a person who is in tune with the national ethos while the Congress
    has fielded someone who is alien to it.
    The party also derided Gandhi for seeking a safe passage to Parliament, saying it
    reveals her uncertainty of winning from Amethi.
    BJP vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy, in answer to Sibal's comment, agreed that his
    partymen have contested from more than one constituency in the past. But that was
    only when they were doubtful of winning from their home constituency.
    "Today, none of our top leaders have any doubt that they will win from their
    constituencies, whether it is A B Vajpayee in Lucknow or L K Advani in Gandhinagar.
    Hence, there is no reason to contest two constituencies," he said.
    Krishnamurthy also pointed out that if a leader won from two seats, then giving up
    one (a Lok Sabha member can represent only one constituency) becomes a headache.
    "Both constituencies insist the leader quit the other seat. And whichever is
    abandoned then tends to turn hostile. We have had such experiences in the past and
    after that decided never again to allow our leaders to contest from two seats," he
    The Congress, it would appear, is more confident of Bellary than Amethi. Because,
    though the latter is considered a family borough, the party has lost it on a few
    occasions, including in the last election when Satish Sharma was the candidate.
    Gandhi had appealed to the Amethi voters to elect Sharma, who was a confidant of
    Rajiv Gandhi, but that went unheard. 
    On the other hand, the Congress has never lost an election in Bellary.
    Incidentally, the Congress does not have a clean win-record in Cuddapah. The seat
    was, till some time ago, a communist stronghold. Moreover, the Telugu Desam Party has
    fielded the well-known Telugu actress Vijayashanti there.
    Political observers agreed that though Swaraj is unlikely to win, she will certainly
    give Gandhi more trouble in Bellary than the latter would have liked.

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