Congress predicts `pleasant surprise'

NEW DELHI DEC. 7. The change in the mood is unmistakable. The Congress build-up to its campaign in the Gujarat elections is uncharacteristically low key. This is in sharp contrast to the stridency and aggressiveness in the BJP camp. With just over two days to go before the campaigning comes to a halt, Congressmen are now predicting a "pleasant surprise" in Gujarat.

News filtering into the AICC headquarters from its observers and workers in the State "promise glad tidings" for the party. Even senior party leaders now predict a turnaround in the party's fortunes.

The AICC general secretary, Ambika Soni, who had just returned from campaigning, said: "The overwhelming response to the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi's rallies leads us to believe that the people of Gujarat will vote for the Congress".

The party, however, appeared to approach the current elections with a sense of trepidation.

Its senior office-bearers, even those in-charge of the State, appear unsure of the party's chances and apprehensive about the aggressive Hindutva campaign of the BJP.

But with the campaign now in its final stages, and its principal vote catcher Ms. Gandhi all set for her final campaigning in the State tomorrow, the caution has given away to "genuine optimism". While none of its senior leaders were willing to predict a win, the mood is upbeat.

The Lok Janshakti Party leader, Ramvilas Paswan and the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief, Laloo Prasad Yadav have agreed to campaign for the Congress. They will begin their campaign tomorrow, Mr. Yadav from Dwarka.

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