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Heavy burden of birthday

New Delhi, Dec. 9: Keep it 'simple and low key', Sonia Gandhi is believed to have wished.

Her every wish may be a command for them, but not this one ' not on her birthday.

Surging crowds laid siege to the area outside her residence at 10 Janpath and the party headquarters close by, singing and dancing, bhangra and kathakali, united in the diverse expression of what the Opposition called 'sycophancy'.

It could not object to the 26-foot-long cake weighing 100 kg that had been made for the Congress president's 58th birthday. Such examples were not quite scarce during the time of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's reign ' BJP and Congress supporters treat their leaders equally well.

The National Democratic Alliance smelt 'gross political impropriety' in the series of advertisements put out in this morning's newspapers by Congress-led state governments.

Chief ministers followed the ads. Half a dozen of them trooped into 10 Janpath, including Punjab's Amarinder Singh and N.D. Tiwari of Uttaranchal who have been rather shaky in their chairs.

Faced with NDA criticism, a Congress spokesman said: 'They (the Opposition) have no moral right (to criticise) ...The NDA ran the India Shining campaign on the directive of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.'

The spokesman asserted that neither the Union government nor the party had issued any directive to Congress states to take out the ads. 'Sonia means good governance' ' that was the theme in most ads, though she is not in government.

Today, much of the government shifted to her home for at least a part of the time.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited her. Allies and ministers Laloo Prasad Yadav, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, Dayanidhi Maran, T.R. Baalu and Praful Patel came, too.

Communists don't celebrate birthdays, but Sitaram Yechury was there, maybe to discuss the oil price rise.

Only on two previous occasions have so many supporters collected outside Sonia's residence. The first was in May 1999 in a reaction against the Sharad Pawar-led revolt against her. Then it was in last May, initially to hail her for leading the party back to power and then to plead with her not to refuse the Prime Minister's post.

Now, the birthday bouquets carry the extra weight of that renunciation.

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