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Sonia gives a pep talk after Vaiko walkout

Tiruchirappalli, March 5: So what if Vaiko turned “betrayer”, they still have Sonia Gandhi in their midst.

DMK leaders today shrugged off the MDMK chief’s stunning desertion and hoped the Congress president’s charisma will help them topple the Jayalalithaa-led government in the coming elections in Tamil Nadu.

“Our party cadre and alliance leaders will now work with greater vigour and the MDMK’s departure will not affect the DMK-Congress-Left parties alliance prospects,” party patriarch M. Karunanidhi asserted at the DMK’s ninth state conference here.

Sonia, too, played to the gallery.

She reminded the audience that it was the people of Tamil Nadu who made the government under Manmohan Singh possible in Delhi. “We have come to you again under Mr Karunanidhi’s leadership to free Tamil Nadu from the AIADMK misrule,” she told the closing session of the conference as she kicked off the combine’s campaign for the May 8 polls.

Sonia emphasised that it was the UPA ' the central coalition she heads and which includes the DMK ' that ensured the interests of all sections, including minorities, the other backward classes and women. So the people of Tamil Nadu, she said, should vote for the DMK-led combine if they wanted an “effective, responsive and caring government”.

The Congress chief, who was accompanied by Union finance minister P. Chidambaram, working committee member Veerappa Moily and state unit chief Krishnaswamy, did not refer to the Vaiko episode at all.

But the desertion rankled, more so after Vaiko had last week declared he would work for the “success” of the DMK-led front.

Karunanidhi could not stop the cries of “betrayer” but made clear that party leaders should ignore the MDMK chief’s defection to the ruling side.

DMK general secretary Professor Anbazhagan also played down the desertion. “I take it only as news, I give it no value,” the 83-year-old told the conference.

Sonia’s presence seemed to have boosted the DMK ranks. Her over 100-foot-high cutouts gave the impression that the Congress chief will be as much a poll mascot as Karunanidhi.

Colourful posters lined the long route to the meeting venue at Anna Nagar, 10 km from Tiruchirappalli town, while local Congressmen, including Chidambaram’s son Karti, chipped in with welcome arches.

As the venue was close to the airport, the organisers, led by DMK district secretary K.N. Nehru, got a special road paved so that Sonia could drive straight down to the meeting venue after landing.

At the conference, some also sought to build greater legitimacy for Karunanidhi’s son M.K. Stalin.

“Why should people envy Stalin when he has been through the fire and ice process all these years to reach this level and is justifiably poised to be Karunanidhi’s successor to the party leadership'” asked Rm. Veerappan.

More than Vaiko’s exit, the crucial issue was bringing back Karunanidhi as chief minister for a record “fifth time to save both Tamil Nadu and the Tamil people”.

“Please allot the police ministry to Stalin and he will handle this very well,” Union shipping and surface transport minister T.R. Baalu suggested to applause from the audience.

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