The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia swings, so does durbar

New Delhi, Oct. 1: Towards the fag end, one felt as if it was an Osho commune with the mob swinging and singing in frenzy. But there was no Osho. Sonia Gandhi was their icon.

It was an unparalleled chemistry between a politician and her supporters. The rapport was rare. Sonia’s audience — hundreds of women delegates, rich and poor, from all over the country, especially from the 14 Congress-ruled states — assembled to discuss the Mahila Sashaktikaran Adhiveshan (women’s empowerment). The venue — Talkatora Stadium.

Before the day-long session came to an end, “Sare jahan se achha” and “Hum honge kamyaab ek din” rent the air and a few women could not resist. They started clapping and swinging. Soon Sonia followed suit.

As the hysteria spread, Sonia got up and other women leaders on the dais, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit, Ambika Soni, Mohsina Kidwai, Girija Vyas, Renuka Chowdhry, Margaret Alva, Jayanti Natraj, too, sprang to their feet.

Next to the dais, adjacent to the audience enclosure, a few Congressmen sat in two rows on either side. When madam swings, can the Congressmen sit still' Veterans like Motilal Vohra, Natwar Singh, Shivraj Patil, R.K. Dhawan also sprang to their feet and danced with unconcealed enthusiasm and concealed embarrassment. In a matter of minutes the entire crowd, barring mediapersons and SPG personnel were up on their feet.

The session worked well for Sonia. She not only established instant rapport with women from all nooks and corners of the country, the meeting also sent across a political message that a vast number of women have no problem accepting the bahu of Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister.

Though the topics of the session were legal equality, education, health and employment, several women delegates who were allowed to speak deviated and eulogised Sonia. The speeches marked repeated Sonia zindabad slogans. A woman delegate from Chattisgarh made the audience repeat: “Pran se pyari Soniaji hamari”.

When Girija Vyas said “Soniaji ke sath sukh dukh mein”, the crowd chorused it.

Rubbishing Sangh pariwar and Jayalalitha for raking up the foreign origin issue, they said Sonia will be the Prime Minister and they would work hard for it. Anita Raj from Haryana said Sonia would be the next Prime Minister. On Sonia’s prodding Ambika Soni had to repeatedly remind them not to deviate from the original topic.

Sonia in her brief speech said she would convene a meet of Congress chief ministers and direct them to implement the 10-point “resolve” for women’s empowerment.

Sonia read out five points in Hindi and five in English as the audience was divided between Hindi and English speakers. She said women’s empowerment should be given the shape of a people’s movement and asked states ruled by her party to expedite programmes for the all-round development of women.

The stadium and the surrounding areas were awash with banners and posters of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv and Sonia. Above the dais stood a huge billboard with pictures of all five women Congress presidents — Annie Besant,Nelie Sengupta, Sarojini Naidu, Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.

Earlier, Renuka Chowdhry assailed the “male bastion” for all ills against women. She said women have no say in the number of children though “the body is their’s” and “they have no say either in deciding the sex of the child. Even farmers after ploughing the land tend it with manure, but men never cared even when a woman was forced to bear children a dozen times”, she said amid loud cheers from delegates.

Assailing the prevalent “social system”, Chowdry said even “abuses” whether in Hindi, English or vernacular langues, are gender-specific — the female gender abused in the name of mother, sister and daughter, she said without referring to popular Hindi and English abuses.

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