The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia steals Atal campaign thunder

Bamsan, Feb. 22: She came, she saw and conquered the hearts of all those who had come to hear her.

Sonia Gandhi today stormed chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal’s constituency, addressing a huge rally at the same venue and from the same podium from where Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had yesterday asked people to vote for the BJP if they wanted development.

Aaj waqt aa gaya hai BJP ke doodh ka doodh aur paani ka paani karne ka (The time has come to call the BJP’s bluff),” the Congress chief said to thunderous applause from the over 15,000-strong crowd that had gathered, much more than yesterday.

Saluting the people of Hamirpur for their army tradition, Sonia said Himachal Pradesh had given many martyrs to the nation.

“But the BJP has even begun making money from their coffins,” she said to roars of “besharam (shameless)”.

The Congress president said she was amazed at the BJP’s claims of development during the last five years of saffron rule. “Development work in the state is due to the policies pursued by the previous Congress regime. There has been no new development under the BJP. I have not seen anything. Have you'” she asked.

Kahin nahin (nowhere),” they replied in unison.

Lashing out at the BJP, Sonia said Congress-bashing was its pastime. “To the BJP, the sacrifices of Congressmen for the country is irrelevant. The party does not even refrain from criticising Indira Gandhi. Their only job is to project the Congress in poor light,” she said.

Sonia said the Prime Minister had been told of corruption under the Dhumal government, but took no action.

Bhrashtachar to bhrashtachar hi badata hai (Corruption fuels corruption),” she said to the “BJP hai, hai” from the crowd, which consisted of a sizeable number of women.

Admitting khamiyas (shortcomings) in the Congress state unit, Sonia assured the crowd that they would be sorted out. “We will do everything to keep you happy,” she said to another round of applause.

Sonia said she was pained at the Dhumal government’s inability to provide jobs to the youth. “Congress governments in other states have been helping the poor and the weak. This is no meherbani (favour). It is the government’s job. We know what to do, as our policies are very clear. Hum desh ko aage badhana chahte hain. BJP ki tarah peeche nahin dekhte hain (We want to take the country forward, not look backwards like the BJP),” she said.

Sonia, who was accompanied by former chief minister Veerbhadra Singh and state unit chief Vidya Stokes — both kept their speeches brief — said the Congress was the only party with a secular and democratic character.

Sonia expressed confidence that her party would win because of the prevailing wave for a change and underlined that this change would be for the welfare of all sections.

The Congress, she asserted, has always safeguarded the interests of the underprivileged, whereas the BJP has already tried to play the communal card. But the people of Himachal, she added, were wise enough to understand the vote-based politics perpetrated by the BJP.

Before leaving, Sonia, unmindful of security considerations, moved towards the crowd but was held back by her guards. She, however, circled the venue, waving to the people. “I want to remain near them,” she said.

Asked who would be the chief minister, she smiled, then said: “We will decide later.”

Sonia’s decision to go near the people evoked an overwhelming response. “Pradhan mantri to ghabra gaye the kal. Soniaji hi desh ka bhavishya hai (Yesterday, the Prime Minister looked worried. Soniaji is the country’s future),” said Prakash, who had stayed back after Vajpayee’s rally.

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