Express News Service

NEW DELHI: Unfazed by the power tussle in Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi is set to launch the Congress poll campaign in Chhattisgarh where the party is locked in a direct fight with the BJP ahead of the November elections.

Sources said Rahul has been keeping a close watch on developments in Karnataka, where both the JD-S-Congress combine and the BJP have staked claim to form government. The Congress chief is keen to make an early start in Chhattisgarh, where his party has been out of power for the past 14 years.

Party insiders said as the Congress lacks a popular face in Chhattisgarh, Rahul’s outreach will be the centre piece of the party’s campaign. To begin with, Rahul has identified issues related to Dalits and tribals, and will raise them at a Jan Swaraj Sammelan in Raipur. It will be followed by rallies in Surguja and Bilaspur on Thursday.

“Atrocities against Dalits and exploitation of tribals through non-implementation of the Forests Rights Act are issues close to our party chief,” said a senior AICC functionary.

Party strategists said AICC Chhattisgarh in-charge PL Punia has been touring across the state in a bid to revamp the state unit. On the lines of Gujarat and Karnataka, Rahul has directed local leaders to draft a people’s manifesto by seeking feedback from voters in each of the 27 districts.

According to sources what keeps the state unit going is the marginal 0.7 per cent vote share difference between the Congress (40.29 per cent) and the BJP (41.04 per cent) in the 2013 assembly polls. Despite this, the Congress could win just 39 of the 90 seats with the BJP getting 49. In the remaining two seats, one each was won by the BSP and an Independent.

Congress managers said besides the assembly polls, they also hope to increase the party tally in the Lok Sabha elections next year. In 2014, riding on a pro-Modi wave, the BJP had won 10 of the 11 Lok Sabha seats in Chhattisgarh. Tamradhwaj Sahu, the lone Congress lawmaker from Durg parliamentary constituency, was recently given the charge of the OBC department created by Rahul after he took over as party chief.