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Rahul backs up offensive

Raipur, April 10: Returning fire for the first time since the Bofors guns boomed again, Sonia Gandhi today said the BJP was deliberately raising the “bogey” ahead of the elections to cover up its failure to tackle the country’s problems.

“The timing of this being brought up again speaks for itself…. The bogey of Bofors has been raised for the last 18 years and it was thrust on my husband, now on me very conveniently and god knows one day on my great-grandchildren,” she said in Raipur after a hectic day of campaigning.

Sonia had thought hard, amid advice by senior Congress leaders to remain quiet and let the party defend her, before deciding to rely on her instincts to hit back in a tone that exhibited agony as well as contempt. She broke her silence 36 hours after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said the “fresh revelations” reported in a newspaper were “worth CBI’s investigation” and an eager BJP pounced upon it as an “election issue”.

But true to her reticent nature, the Congress chief hit back at her political opponents not at the large public gatherings that greeted her in Bastar and Durg but at Raipur airport in the presence of a handful of journalists.

Sonia said the BJP had grabbed the issue as it was scared it had not been able to solve the unemployment problem or handle the farmers’ issue. “So what else to do' Attack the Nehru-Gandhi family and me in particular,” she said. “Let them go ahead.”

Many Congress leaders — Arjun Singh, Manmohan Singh, Natwar Singh and Kapil Sibal among them — had expressed divergent views. While some wanted Sonia to go public, others thought the charge was “unworthy” of a reaction from her.

Sources close to Sonia said that while she was once again touched by the sympathy from Congress workers, she was sceptical about the party’s ability to defend her and her late husband. As a 10 Janpath insider said: “Bofors always makes Congressmen rush to extend support but somehow a potent strategy to counter it has been lacking.”

But this time, Congress leaders said, there is a “qualitative difference” as Sonia, Priyanka and Rahul — all in the political arena — are itching to take the subject to the “people’s court”.

Rahul said in Amethi today the BJP was raking up Bofors as its “feel-good” show was not cutting much ice with the people. “The BJP is trying to grab power by diverting the attention of the people by raking up the Bofors and the foreign origin issue.”

Rahul said the BJP would not succeed as it “stands exposed before the people”. He said the BJP did not like the fact that his father Rajiv Gandhi had been cleared by court. “Sometimes my mother is called a foreigner and sometimes they call me a foreigner. Do I look like a foreigner'” he asked. “Let them say anything. We are not worried.”

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