Rediff Logo find
Peekay Banner
January 19, 1998


'The Indian Congress has turned into Italian Congress'

Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Kolhapur

E-Mail this story to a friend On the first day of his campaign, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray lashed out viciously at the Congress and its star-campaigner Sonia Gandhi, saying the party should be 'ashamed' of itself for bringing in an 'Italian woman.'

"It seems there are no women left in India," he said, addressing a 100,000-strong public meeting in Kolhapur's Gandhi maidan -- his second since starting the campaign on Sunday -- where he announced 13 of the Sena's 23 candidates for Maharashtra, "It's a shame that the (Indian) Congress has turned into Italian Congress."

"If I marry an Italian girl and she dies, Italians won't make me the PM of their country. If you wanted a foreigner for PM, why did you tell the British to leave the country?"

Toning down his Hindutva stance on the Babri masjid issue, he said a national monument should be constructed at the disputed site.

"For five years no paper has moved in the court. So I feel a pillar should be erected at the site in the name of Mangal Panday, India's first freedom fighter," he said, "But if the court finds there was a temple at the site, then a temple should be constructed. And if it says there was a masjid, then a masjid should come up there."

Criticising the Congress for Sonia's wooing the Christians, Thackeray said, "We are called communal, but under Rajiv's tenure senior Christian leaders like Vincent George, Oscar Fernandes, P A Sangma, Eduardo Fallarbo, S M Jacob and Margaret Alva were given high postings."

Before the speech, a cassette of Hindi songs for the Sena's campaign was released. Titled Sa Re Ga Na, it is the brainchild of Thackeray nephew, Raj.

Thackeray also announced the candidature of Nivedita Mane -- who crossed over from the Congress -- from Icchalkaranji. She is the daughter-in-law of former Congress MP from Icchalkaranji, Balasaheb Rane.

Rane's contesting from Icchalkaranji has brought an end to the Sena's tussle with the BJP for the seat. In the last general election, the BJP had contested it, but lost since the Sena was also interested.

Coming down heavily on Congress spokesperson V N Gadgil, the Sena chief said, "Gadgil says that (BJP president L K) Advani is a foreigner because he is from Pakistan. If that is so, then I K Gujral, too, is a foreigner. Since both are Hindus, we welcome them in our country. But not Sonia, who is not of Indian origin."

Thackeray wound up his speech saying that if the Congress was apologising for the Babri issue, they should also apologise for the killing of 2,500 Sikhs in Delhi.

The speech, however, failed to raise much response from the crowd. In fact, there was hardly any enthusiasm even when he brought up the inflammable Babri issue. Neither did his sharp digs at Sonia Gandhi elicit any notable reaction from the audience.

Interestingly, except for the slogan Hindu hridaya samrat, no other slogan was raised at the meeting -- even Jai Shri Ram and Bharat mata ki jai were not heard. There was a marked lack of saffron flags, too, in Kolhapur. The only ones that were visible were near the Gandhi maidan.

Kolhapur, which is a strong Congress bastion, is now the most important constituency for the Sena in western Maharashtra. Uday Singh Rao Gaikwad, the sitting Congress MP, has been getting nearly 60 per cent of the votes since 1980, except for 1996 when he could manage only 43.93 per cent.

The Sena has filed Vikram Singh Ghatge, a former Congressman and industrialist, in the constituency. Besides his financial clout, Ghatge has also persuaded quite a few Congress members to join the Sena.

Of the six assembly seats in Kolhapur, three have been retained by the Congress. The Sena has one.

Earlier, Thackeray, along with son Uddhav, nephew Raj and Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, visited the Mahalaxmi temple to launch the campaign.

Speaking to reporters later, he said he was still considering former chief election commissioner T N Seshan's candidature.

"He may contest from Washim, Khed or Ahmed Nagar," Thackeray said.

Asked about the Sena's response to Suresh Kalmadi who quit the Congress and launched his own party, Thackeray said, "If the BJP is not fielding anyone against Kalmadi, we will put up a candidate in Pune."

Tell us what you think of this report