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|January 11, 1998||
Sonia pumps sentiments into her 'vote Congress' plea
N Sathiya Moorthy in Sriperambudur
Sonia Gandhi today asked the nation to 'vote the Congress' and save India from those who 'brutalised' it in the name of religion and castes.
In a speech that marked her campaign-launch for the Congress in the general election, Sonia also declared that she was not after political power, and was only 'working with the Congress' to re-build India of 'Rajiv Gandhi's vision'.
It was a campaign launched with a difference. No political party was named, nor any leader, called names. The 'brutalisation' reference was the farthest that Sonia went in making an indirect reference to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
And if Sonia continues to campaign this way in the coming weeks, the BJP may find it difficult to corner her, even as she takes her message across to voters.
The 15-minute prepared speech lacked in substance, but was full of sentiment and personal references to 'my husband' Rajiv Gandhi, and the Nehru-Gandhi family's contributions to preserving the unity and the integrity of India.
Sriperambudur brought 'sadness' to her because her husband was killed here. But it also gave her the determination to pledge herself to serving the nation in true Nehru-Gandhi style.
It was a positive campaign with no negative connotations, but how positive will it remain in the coming days, and also in fetching votes, will be seen only when Sonia hits the campaign trial and realpolitic.
If the picture she evoked of a grief-stricken women, left to tend to her two children, before taking to public life, got etched in her listeners, they cannot be mistaken for it, either. Even Rajiv Gandhi's leaving his chosen career and the quietude of family life -- he was a 'loving father' and 'protective' husband -- to become a mass leader only had the nation's demands in mind, Sonia declared.
And now she has come to put it all back on the rails, the nation, the Congress and all -- and was no more the 'private person' that she had chosen to be since Rajiv Gandhi's assassination.
''Today, I stand here, surrounded by security guards,'' Sonia said. But Rajiv shed his blood, unprotected and alone, without any security, but stood valiantly in the face his assassin, all the same.
Sonia made no reference to either the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, which has been charged with complicity in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination by the Jain Commission.
The message was clear. Sonia Gandhi's manner befitted the solemn occasion of her visiting her husband's memorial in the company of their daughter Priyanka -- rather than the ongoing political tussle in which the Congress is a party wanting to be pulled out of the dumps, quick and fast.
But even the oblique reference to the BJP did not go unnoticed by the politically-conscious party cadres who had gathered to hear her, apart from the international media that had collected in great numbers.
There is no denying that Sonia Gandhi built up a ready rapport with her listeners today, though it is a different matter how she proceeds from here.
Her joining issue with the political adversaries in the Congress can make her a favourite political target, but all the same can bring out the 'political animal' in her, as she is being made out to be, by her admirers.
Conversely, her non-controversial plea to the voters to cast their lot with the Congress may work wonders for the party, given the family's traditional identification with the organisation and the nation's leadership. This, in turn, could also leave her critics speechless, as she would have said precious little against them to provoke them into hitting back.
Former Pondicherry chief minister V Vaithialingam said, ''She has followed the great example of the Nehru-Gandhi family. She referred only to the nation and the family, and of course the Congress, not to men and matters. There was the traditional family care for the nation, and the sentiments attached to that family. It vibes a chord in the Indian listener and that's it.''
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