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Target Sonia: slander & sparks fly
- Gandhari-Helen parallel poisons air

New Delhi, March 18: The Congress has demanded a public apology from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Vinay Katiyar’s alleged intemperate attack on Sonia Gandhi.

Addressing a meeting yesterday in Lakhimpur Kheri — the Lok Sabha seat he has been allotted — Katiyar reportedly said every time a woman arrived on the Indian political scene, she wrought havoc.

He reportedly spoke of how Gandhari was responsible for the battle of Kurukshetra, and Helen of Troy for World War II. And Sonia, the feisty BJP leader was supposed to have said, had similarly got the Nehru-Gandhi family wiped out once she became part of it.

Katiyar reportedly added that if she could do this to her family, what would happen to the country if she were to become its Prime Minister'

Congress leaders Kapil Sibal and Jayanti Natarajan today said: “If the apology does not come, we will not rest and wherever Vajpayee and these leaders go, we will follow them and stage demonstrations.” Natarajan also threatened to bring Katiyar’s comments to the Election Commission’s notice.

Katiyar sounded unrepentant when approached by some television channels in the capital where he attended a meeting of Uttar Pradesh leaders called by BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan to finalise candidates for the remaining seats. He maintained that Congress members — “who understand only English and not Hindi” — had “misconstrued” his speech and needed to take Hindi lessons from him.

He declared that his stand on Sonia remained unchanged and that he would repeat his comments when he addresses a rally in Pilibhit tomorrow. The BJP has fielded Sonia’s sister-in-law Maneka Gandhi in Pilibhit.

Sibal said Katiyar did not know Indian history, culture or heritage and pointed to the incorrect references to The Mahabharata and Helen of Troy. Natarajan described the attack as “shameful and disgusting” and added: “The way they are levelling allegations against women, they (the BJP leaders) are not real Hindus.”

Asked to respond to the anti-Sonia tirade, Katiyar’s patron in the BJP, human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, asserted that he had always said election campaigns should be “dignified”.

“But this norm must apply uniformly to all parties. When someone makes fun of the PM’s poetry, it definitely lowers the standard of the campaign,” Joshi, who was instrumental in making Katiyar president of the Uttar Pradesh unit, said.

Despite the Prime Minister’s advice to desist from personal attacks on the Gandhi family and keep the campaign’s style and substance “as political as possible”, Sonia has been mentioned in varying degrees by the other BJP leaders over the past few days.

Yesterday, while addressing reporters, central minister Arun Jaitley, who is also a designated party spokesman, said Sonia’s roadshows lacked focus.

“The whole campaign (of the Congress) is being reduced to irrelevance. I believe in this background a somehow curious campaign called the roadshow has been invented. The leader of a political campaign speaks to voters. Rallies are supposed to be talkshows of leaders. The Congress president has always taken escape from speaking. In this roadshow, she has also taken escape from reading,” Jaitley said.

On March 15, Mahajan criticised Sonia for her reported remark of how she could have become the Prime Minister if she wished to after Rajiv Gandhi’s death in 1991. He accused her of “arrogant disrespect” for democracy and an “intense desire for unearned power” and said she had “revealed her true self”.

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