Campaign Trail/ Sharat Pradhan in Varanasi
Sonia launches first frontal attack on BJP
Sonia Gandhi made her first frontal attack against the Bharatiya Janata Party at a mammoth election rally in the ancient Hindu city of Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganga.
Accompanied by her son Rahul, she told a cheering 100,000-strong gathering, with a visibly large Muslim attendance, that they should not get carried away by the sudden softening of the BJP's Hindutva stand.
''This is only a facade put up by them to serve their limited political objectives,'' she said.
Referring to the BJP's oft-repeated assurance that the 'Kashi and Mathura shrines are not on their agenda', Sonia warned, ''Mark their words carefully. They are only saying that the issues have been dropped for the time being. What do they mean by saying that -- is it not obvious?''
Referring to the Babri Masjid demolition, the Congress's star campaigner reminded the people not to forget ''what had happened in 1992 and 1993. You have seen how insecure the whole nation had become.
''Where was the need to pull down a religious structure, vitiating the country's atmosphere and making thousands homeless and countless children orphans?''
Praising the country's 'rich cultural heritage', Sonia recalled her late husband's views on divisive forces. ''The great Indian ideals are under threat from divisive forces... It is not the culture for which my mother-in-law Indira Gandhi and my husband laid down their lives.''
In a obvious bid to touch upon the hearts of the local population, Sonia described Varanasi as the 'soul of our nation' and recalled its association with renowned saints like Gautam Buddha who delivered his first sermon in the city.
Sonia said the only way to save the nation was ''by electing a secular government. The Congress might have certain weaknesses. Yet it is the only party that can take India on to the path of progress and development and save it from all ills, with which it is now threatened.''
Poohpoohing the BJP's claims on providing 'a stable government', Sonia pointed out, ''Remember, only the Congress has provided nine stable governments to this country.''
She concluded on an emotional note by reverting back to ''my family's love and devotion for the country.... I will remain grateful to India till my last breath.''
This was Sonia's second meeting in India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh that sends 85 members to the Lok Sabha -- the first being at Amethi, her late husband's political constituency.
Crowds had collected in the city's popular and sprawling Benia Bagh grounds hours before she arrived around 1830 hours. Even the policemen on duty described the crowds as ''the largest since 1980, when they waited for Indira Gandhi for 14 hours.''
With state Congress leaders and party candidates describing her as 'India's prospective prime minister', the crowd broke into thunderous applause intermittently. ''Rahul, Priyanka ki karo taiyyari ab fail ho gaya Atal Bihari' (Prepare yourself for Rahul and Priyanka now that Atal Bihari has failed).
Tell us what you think of this report