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Gujarat tough state for Congress, but challenge not insurmountable: Milind Deora on Assembly polls

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Congress leader Milind Deora has said that while Gujarat is a “tough” state to win the Assembly polls in, the challenge is not insurmountable for his party.

Talking to PTI, Deora, who has been appointed the All India Congress Committee’s (AICC) observer for the Gujarat Assembly elections due by the end of this year, said the party had come close to winning Gujarat five years ago, riding on the anti-incumbency factor after demonetisation.

The BJP has been in power in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, from 1998, while the Congress has failed to win the state assembly elections since 1995. In the 2017 elections, the Congress had won 77 seats, while the BJP had bagged 99.

“I will work with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to help the party frame the right strategy, ensuring that there is unity on the ground and the same mistakes, which affected us in the previous elections, are not repeated,” Deora said.

An observer’s role is to ensure that things go on smoothly, he said.

“It is a big responsibility and I will do my best to try to come close to what happened five years ago and ensure that no stone is left unturned to win this time,” the Congress leader said.

The Gujarat team, led by Gehlot, will discuss the scenario that prevailed five years ago, when the Congress came close to winning the state and what lessons have been learnt since.

“We have to salvage the situation and help grow the party quickly,” he said.

Deora has kept a low profile after his second consecutive loss in the Lok Sabha elections from the Mumbai South constituency in 2019 and stepping down as the president of the Mumbai Congress.

By giving him the role of an observer for the Gujarat Assembly polls, the party has shown its trust in him, the former MP said.

“I have been trusted and entrusted with the task of being one of the three observers in the crucial elections. We will examine the strategy for the polls, amend and augment it,” he said.

The Congress has to highlight and expose decades of anti-incumbency and present a constructive plan of its own, he said.

“We not only have to oppose the BJP, but also suggest alternatives of our own for development of the economic and social model of Gujarat,” Deora said.

“There are challenges, but they are not insurmountable. We can do better than we did last time. An observer’s role is not to tell the state unit what to do, but to ensure that things go smoothly and maintain a harmonious balance in the organisation,” he said.

Asked about the spate of election defeats faced by the Congress in the past, Deora said Gujarat was a tough state, but predicting elections based on past performances was not right.

“Elections surprise people. Gujarat has a unique dynamic of high anti-incumbency, economic and agrarian distress. The Congress will have to strike a balance between being confident, realistic and not being afraid or averse to mounting a challenge,” he said.

Speaking about the upcoming municipal polls in Mumbai, Deora felt the developments within the Shiv Sena, which has ruled the civic body for more than two decades, will have to be sorted out between the two groups led by Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde organisationally, electorally and legally.

For the Congress, being part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance had both pros and cons, he said.

“One of the disadvantages was that the Congress voice wasn’t heard enough in the government and in the public domain. Now that the government is no more, we have to strike a balance between aligning with the like-minded parties, but not relinquishing the space to alliance partners,” Deora said.

The Congress has to ensure that its voice is heard and its presence felt, he said.

“I have written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde that the municipal elections in Mumbai have to be fought freely and fairly, wards cannot be manipulated to suit one party’s interest,” Deora said.

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