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Sonia holds central hall of Parliament in thrall
R Prema in New Delhi | March 13, 2003 02:43 IST
Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi spent more than an hour in the central hall of Parliament on Wednesday, enjoying hot coffee and regaling MPs from not only the Congress but also some from the Telugu Desam Party.
This was the first time the Congress president spent so much time in the central hall and she was literally mobbed by MPs and senior journalists. Among the former were senior Congressmen like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Arjun Singh and K Natwar Singh and TDP politburo members Dr Y Shivaji and Lal Jan Basha.
It was a rare sight with the entire central hall focussed on one corner, where Gandhi was seated. Her presence there became the topic of the day and all Parliament reporters wanted to know her comments on various issues.
Gandhi recalled how she and her late husband Rajiv enjoyed having sliced bread with butter in the central hall. Hearing this, her political adviser, Ambika Soni, went to the tea stall and brought a loaf of bread and butter.
Gandhi told her audience that while she believes America's war on Iraq may be delayed till the first week of April, it is inevitable. She brushed aside Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's statement opposing the war without the approval of the United Nations, but said she still prays for good sense to prevail on US President George W Bush, Jr.
Someone commented that only Congress Rajya Sabha member Murli Deora, who was also present, should prevail upon President Bush against going to war. Immediately, someone else pointed out that Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Najma Heptullah is a good friend of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. This led Gandhi to comment that only Congress politicians can bring peace.
Harish Khare, political editor of The Hindu, asked about the Congress party's chances in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan later this year. He sought to know whether the present chief ministers in the two states will again be projected as the party's leaders at the hustings. Gandhi laughed and said let the elections come, the Congress Working Committee will take the decisions at the right time.
Hari Swarup of the Press Trust of India asked how the first part of the budget session of Parliament had gone off peacefully (Parliament adjourns for a month from March 13 to April 16) and Gandhi quipped that it was because the session was a brief one.
Representatives of Kerala newspapers asked about the adivasi abductions in the state and whether Chief Minister A K Antony had sent her any report. Gandhi said she trusted Antony not to do anything unwarranted and the opposition parties in the state were simply trying to get some mileage from the issue.
Vinod Sharma, political editor of The Hindustan Times, asked if Gandhi would go to Johannesburg to watch the cricket World Cup final on March 23. The Congress president said she would love to, but has a lot of pending work. Besides, she pointed out, security concerns will come in the way.