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Congress hopeful of gains in four States

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, APRIL 27. An internal assessment made by the Congress, the alliance led by the party will make electoral gains in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Though it will remain in the fourth position in U.P., the party is drawing "negative comfort from the fact that the BJP is competing with us for this slot." The major State it appears to have conceded is Madhya Pradesh, which it lost to the BJP in the 2003 Assembly elections. The party's chief spokesperson, S. Jaipal Reddy, said that despite losing Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh also in the 2003 Assembly elections, the Congress was hopeful of doing better now than in 1999 in these States.

This apart, the Congress is hopeful of a repeat of 1998, when the BJP got a big haul in the Lok Sabha elections from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan but incurred heavy losses in the Assembly polls in the two States. Applying the same logic, the Congress is hopeful of improving its 1999 tally since the two Assemblies are in the BJP's kitty.

Add to this the perception that the BJP was at a saturation point in these two States in the 13th Lok Sabha.

In the hope of making good the general perception that the party has a fighting chance in these elections, the party has decided to intensify its campaign in 100 constituencies across the major States over the coming days. While the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, will remain the "star campaigner'' and her children are likely to be roped in — particularly in Uttar Pradesh — senior leaders will be pressed into the campaign: Manmohan Singh will tour the State capitals, Arjun Singh will focus on Madhya Pradesh and Natwar Singh's brief is Rajasthan.

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