The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stung Sonia shoots secular salvo
- Clarion call to take on BJP

Aligarh (Uttar Pradesh), Dec. 13: Flirting with “soft Hindutva” didn’t help. So Sonia Gandhi has gone back to the basics.

The Congress chief, still smarting from her party’s humiliating defeat at the hands of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, today called on all “secular” forces to join hands against those who “subvert constitutional values behind a reformist veneer”.

The call came at a carefully chosen venue — Aligarh Muslim University, the nerve-centre of the country’s largest minority. Sonia had been invited to deliver a lecture at the university’s Nehru Centre.

In a scathing attack on the BJP-led coalition at the Centre, Sonia said the past few years have seen a severe assault on secularism. “That assault continues unabated. It takes many forms. Textbooks are being rewritten. Institutions of excellence are being subverted. Scholars are being hounded. Minorities are being targeted.”

“We must reaffirm the collective will to combat communalism of all kinds in a frontal manner. Communalism of all kinds is pernicious and destructive. It must be confronted without fear,” she added.

The Congress chief’s call, however, appeared to have had little impact on other secular Opposition parties. “Speeches are not enough,” said an Opposition leader, who felt Sonia should “do something concrete to convert them into action”.

Opposition leaders want the Congress to come out of the “ivory tower” and work towards alliances. Many were disappointed that the party was not following up on its “Shimla Sankalp”. At its conclave in the Himachal Pradesh capital a few months ago, the Congress had decided to explore possibilities of alliances.

Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh had gone on record saying the Congress refused to have a tie-up in the recent state elections. Singh said his party was willing to go in for an alliance in Madhya Pradesh, but Congress leaders refused, comparing the Samajwadi to an “ant”.

The Bahujan Samaj Party’s Rashid Alvi said a tie-up is possible only if someone proposes. “The Congress has not taken the initiative. We will consider their request if they approach us.”

Although her call seemed to have left Opposition parties unmoved, the Congress chief was a hit at Aligarh. The audience cheered when Sonia, the first member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to be invited by the university in 41 years, covered her head with her light green silk saree as the Quran was being recited. “Who says she is alien,” a woman lecturer was heard saying. “She is so nice and does not look like a foreigner,” said a student.

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