In Gandhi fiefdom, even Cong leaders canít enter

Uma Shankar Mishra may be a mere Congress district president but he doesn't report to the Uttar Pradesh party chief, doesn't go to Delhi unless called. He knows he's special: "There are no middlemen between me and Soniaji. No outsiders are needed in Rae Bareli."

Mishra's not bragging. The "outsiders", including UPCC president Salman Khursheed, AICC general secretary in-charge Ashok Gehlot and other senior leaders, will stop where Rae Bareli begins, 40 km from Lucknow, when Sonia Gandhi visits her constituency tomorrow.

"I will go only where she goes as Congress president. I have no role when she visits her constituency," says Gehlot. Khursheed too admits: "That has been the tradition, all of us return from the border. She wants to directly interact with people in her constituency. I do not know if there is any exception this time given the special situation of the visit."

Sonia visits her constituency once every two months, but this is her first after she resigned as MP and chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC) on the issue of office of profit.

Together with Rae Bareli, Amethi and Sultanpur make a Congress island in the vast UP expanse where the party hardly exists. Feroze Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been MPs from one of these three constituencies. Mishra says the poll-machinery in Rae Bareli has already started rolling for Sonia's re-election within the next six months. "The system put in place for the last Lok Sabha election was never dismantled. The moment Soniaji resigned, we activated it again," he says.

From next week, worker meets will start from the panchayat level. "Important people in each village cluster are given the responsibility of mobilising voters and managing booths. We will have finished our job in three months, well before the code of conduct restrictions," says another party functionary.

... contd.

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