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Sonia Gandhi wows Rohtak as Kesri toes her lineTara Shankar Sahay in Rohtak
Triggering off virtual hysteria among the 100,000-plus crowd by her presence in this Haryana town on Wednesday, Sonia Gandhi said although she was not, for the time time being, contesting the parliamentary poll from Amethi, it should not be construed that her interest in Congress affairs had dimished in any way.
Gandhi, who flew in by a helicopter to address a joint rally at the Police Lines ground along with Congress president Sitaram Kesri, clearly stole the latter's thunder and even issued him a subtle warning that she would be actively involved in party affairs for its all-round betterment by giving proper and appropriate directions.
The rousing reception accorded to Rajiv Gandhi's widow seemed acutely embarrassing for Kesri, who could only sing paeans of praise to her. Sonia Gandhi, he said, was a 'true leader' and would provide direction to the country. This was the first time the Congress president and Sonia had appeared on the stump together. Last week, a joint appearance in Ranchi was scuttled by Kesri's failure to catch a flight.
Launching a broadside against the non-Congress parties, he said the others had ganged up against the Congress because they were scared of Sonia. Asserting that she was improving the party's secular image, the party chief ended his three-minute speech by saying that 'arthik swaraj' (economic independence) and 'garibon ka raj' (rule of the poor) would be achieved by the Congress under Sonia.
The mammoth crowd, which had jammed every available space, went delirious everytime Sonia waved to the people. Slogans of 'Yeh Sonia nahin aandhi hai, doosri Indira Gandhi hai (she is not Sonia, she is the second Indira Gandhi)' rent the air and securitymen could be seen struggling to restore order among the over-enthusiastic audience.
Reading the writing on the wall, Kesri heaped praises on Sonia before resuming his seat on the dais. Over-enthusiastic Congress workers booed former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal when he rose to thank Sonia for addressing the rally.
Sonia elicited cheers when she said it was Jawaharlal Nehru who was responsible for Haryana's birth and that the state had made rapid strides all these years. India is proud of Haryana, she said, amid thunderous applause. She referred to the Mahabharat war being fought in Kurukshetra in Haryana and underscored Haryana's contribution to the national movement.
Her speech, which lasted for about 15 minutes, was delivered in chaste Hindi although traces of her native Italian accent could be discerned. But overall, her speech seemed to have mesmerised the crowds.
She said the country's economic development greatly suffered because of instability, and only the Congress could provide stability and appealed to the people to vote for the party.
She caused a minor stampede when, after completing her speech, she descended from the dais and without warning went to the audience enclosure to wave to the people. Order was restored only after policemen resorted to a mild lathi-charge to pacify enthusiastic spectators who broke three enclosures to see Rajiv Gandi's widow from upclose.
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