The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia follows in Rajiv steps

Sriperumbudur (Tamil Nadu), Oct. 10: Sonia Gandhi today tried to mingle with the crowd at Sriperumbudur just like her husband Rajiv Gandhi had done on May 21, 1991, minutes before he fell to a human bomb.

But one of the tightest ever security cordons thwarted her first attempt, when she was on her way to the dedication ceremony for a memorial to the former Prime Minister at the assassination site.

On the way back, sensing the restlessness of the crowd waiting to see her in the scorching mid-day sun, Sonia stepped out of her bullet-proof Ambassador.

In the open, she waved to the excited crowd and acknowledged their greetings with a namaste, not just at one but at three spots along the Chennai-Bangalore highway. She even strained out of the car window, all smiles.

Her son Rahul and daughter Priyanka, too, broke security barriers to greet the crowd at the memorial site. Rahul even jumped a barricade.

Earlier in the day, security personnel had prevented the Congress chief from reprising Rajiv Gandhi’s garlanding of his mother’s statue that fateful evening. A security officer at the spot did the honours, instead.

Hundreds of local party workers strained to get a glimpse of Sonia, as she was escorted to the site by Tamil Nadu police, wary of a repeat of last week’s landmine attack on the Andhra Pradesh chief minister.

The hour-long dedication ceremony had some poignant moments when Rajiv Gandhi’s recorded voice was played back and a march by students — reminiscent of the slain leader’s last walk — visibly moved Sonia and Priyanka. “I miss him as much today as I did then,” Priyanka said.

“Rajiv had several dreams. We will work towards fulfilling them,” Sonia said in passing to a private television channel. “This is a very personal moment because being here brings to my mind memories of my husband….”

Speeches were done away with as President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam formally declared the “Memorial” open amid the sound of conchshells, after chanting of bhoomi sukla and inter-faith prayers.

The President sprang a surprise when he departed from protocol to read out a prayer in English, seeking to “give strength to the people to combat the divisive forces”.

Later, after a ceremonial run with the Tricolour by two students, Kalam took a look at a massive work of art in stone, built on the theme of the Story of India, located behind the memorial of Rajiv Gandhi’s portrait and plaque.

The President also met the artists and sthapatis (traditional artisans) involved in the project.

Chief minister Jayalalithaa was a prominent absentee though she had been invited by the Central Public Works Department on behalf of the Centre.

The department had developed the memorial at Rs 21.15 crore on 12.19 acres gifted by the Tamil Nadu government — as revealed in a background note circulated today by the state.

Her counterparts from Congress-ruled states, however, were present.

Kerala’s A.K. Antony, Karnataka’s S.M. Krishna, Delhi’s Sheila Dikshit, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh, Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot and Madhya Pradesh’s Digvijay Singh shared the space with party leaders such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jayanthi Natarajan, G.K. Vasan, E.V.K.S. Elangovan and S. Balakrishnan.

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