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|September 11, 1999||
Sonia rattles Sanjay Singh
Sharat Pradhan in Amethi
Barely half an hour before Sonia Gandhi filed her nomination papers, her BJP rival and one time Rajiv Gandhi protégé Sanjay Singh was struggling his way through the swelling crowds outside the Sultanpur collectorate.
He had come there to propose the nomination of the BJP candidate for the Sultanpur parliamentary seat, Satya Deo Singh. But the moment was somewhat embarrassing for both as the Congress supporters were swiftly outnumbered by BJP workers, whose slogans were, however, drowned in the din created by cries of 'Sonia Gandhi zindabad,, Rajiv Gandhi amar rahen'.
Evidently, Sanjay Singh could see the writing on the wall. Sonia's return to her late husband's constituency was being celebrated by a tumultuous crowd that was turning out spontaneously on the streets of this otherwise sleepy town -- something that the rajkumar of the erstwhile princely state of Amethi had never configured.
The one-time protégé of Sanjay Gandhi and later of Rajiv, until he fell out with the latter in 1988, Sanjay Singh was a happy man until Sonia was confined in Bellary.
But no sooner than news of her decision to contest from Amethi broke out, Sanjay knew it was not going to be smooth sailing anymore. It was rumoured that he even sent feelers to the Congress high command about his inclination to get back into the party fold -- he had been associated with the Congress right from 1976 -- but was cold-shouldered by his erstwhile party.
On his part, the former prince of Amethi vehemently denies this. "That was a canard spread by Congressmen themselves," screamed his second wife and now campaign manager Ameeta Modi, former widow of badminton ace Syed Modi.
"What was the need for me to seek re-entry into the Congress when it is a dying party?" asks Sanjay, who claims, "I am way ahead of Sonia; I think she is the easiest candidate to defeat in Amethi."
The hyperbole by the husband and wife, however, sounds hollow. "This is not a Gandhi state; it is the people's state," Sanjay told this scribe. He also claimed, "Here it is not the issue of her being a foreigner; it is that of her being an outsider while I am from Amethi."
Drawing a comparison between himself and Sonia, he quipped, "My association with this place dates back 1,200 years while that of Sonia was barely 12 years -- out of which 10 years were on my shoulders." Wife Ameeta is quick to emphasise, "Whatever Rajiv Gandhi did for Amethi would not have been possible if Sanjay had not been beside him; if Rajiv was doing, it was Sanjay who was managing."
And even as the man on the street in this entire region raves over the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, Ameeta goes to the extent of seeking to impress that there was much for Nehru-Gandhi family to be indebted to Sanjay for what the latter had done for the former.
"Do you know that Jawaharlal Nehru's education was paid for out of the revenue of Amethi? And are you aware that Allahabad's famous Anand Bhavan was also built out of the fee that was paid to Motilal Nehru as the counsel for Amethi state," she boasts.
The couple claims there is no comparison between them and Sonia. "If the people of Amethi have some problem, where do they go and look for Sonia, in Delhi, where they may at best end up with an audience with her crony George or even someone lower than him? On the contrary, I am here or at least Ameeta is here to share their woes," roars Sanjay.
He also claims to have procured Rs 40 million for developmental work in the constituency over the 13 months that he was MP. This includes the Rs 20 million that had lapsed from the days of Satish Sharma owing to non-utilisation. "And this I used for building schools, community centres in each block that had also been connected on the wireless; besides installation of umpteen handpumps and tube wells," he claimed.
He does not deny that that he could not do anything for the revival of at least 200 small and medium industrial units that were planned or set up during Rajiv's days, but could either not take off or were abandoned after the former PM's death.
To the extent that he runs down Satish Sharma, there can be no dispute or debate. But when it comes to Sonia, Sanjay knows in his heart of hearts that it is an uphill task for him to endear himself to the masses, who now see him as the bete noire of the widow of someone whom they adored as the man next door -- their "Rajiv bhaiya."
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