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Relief rings loud, but political gun silent

New Delhi, Feb. 4: Sonia Gandhi and her family today stood cleansed of allegations that had stuck for 17 years.

“One day, my innocence will be proved,” she recalled Rajiv Gandhi as having said in the thick of the Bofors controversy in Parliament, adding that her husband had been vindicated.

As news of Rajiv Gandhi’s exoneration in the Bofors case came in, she said — with Rahul and Priyanka by her side — “It was a very special moment for us”.

“Seventeen years of vilification.... All of us have tolerated this all these years but ultimately the truth has prevailed,” she said.

If that showed the relief of a family — because celebration may not quite be in order — Sonia lost the opportunity to proclaim the victory in Parliament that she addressed a few hours earlier, speaking of a series of scandals that have taken place during BJP rule.

Participating in the debate on the interim budget, she listed the scams of the past five years as she launched an attack on the government’s “feel-good” campaign.

But if she missed the chance of telling Parliament how her husband had been proved innocent, the curious coincidence of the Bofors verdict coming on a day she spoke about this government’s alleged misdeeds showed in stark contrast how the Opposition had used the allegations against Rajiv Gandhi to telling effect and how ineffectual the Congress has been when presented with a similar opportunity.

The list of scams produced by her today is evidence of the opportunities the Congress had of making financial wrongdoing the centre of the election campaign that is coming up — as the BJP and other Opposition parties had done before the 1989 polls that Rajiv Gandhi lost.

Instead, the Congress has allowed the BJP to snatch the initiative with its high-voltage campaign about a so-called “feel-good factor”.

In her speech, Sonia mentioned the scams, but almost as an aside.

Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy, however, said: “These scams will be our talking points for the election campaign. In a democracy, that is the best we can do to inform the people.”

Late evening, Sonia stepped in to seize the opportunity. Speaking at the farewell meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party executive, she said the verdict would rejuvenate the rank and file.

Later, she was asked by reporters if she expected an apology from those who ran the Bofors campaign. “We cannot expect an apology,” Sonia replied.

But if the leadership had realised the historic opportunity to shed the corruption taint stuck on it since the Bofors days, it would not have allowed the evening media briefing to pass off so uneventfully.

It fielded Satyabrata Chaturvedi, a spokesperson, and all that he could say was that the party’s position stood “vindicated”.

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