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Upbeat Sonia sets date with Rae Bareli

New Delhi, March 24: Yesterday, Sonia Gandhi had said she would definitely contest again from Rae Bareli. On Monday, her constituency will welcome her back.

Sonia will fly to Lucknow in the morning and then drive to Rae Bareli in east-central Uttar Pradesh, sources said.

The state unit will organise a series of receptions along the 48-mile stretch from Lucknow to Rae Bareli to recreate the atmosphere of April 2004 when Rahul Gandhi drove down with his mother and sister Priyanka to file his nomination from Amethi for the general elections.

Uttar Pradesh Congress president Salman Khursheed and the eight zonal in-charges have been directed to rustle up the crowds. The sources said the razzmatazz is likely to end once Sonia reaches her destination.

She is unlikely to address a public meeting but will hold several sessions with party workers and people in her constituency.

It is not known if Rahul and Priyanka would accompany her, but Ashok Gehlot, the general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, will.

Sources said Sonia was “almost certain” to fight the Lok Sabha byelection by June so that she would return to Parliament by the monsoon session.

“If at all she misses a session, it could be the brief one the government may convene to pass some bills after the Assembly elections are over,” said a source.

Sonia will continue to remain the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party even without being an MP. An amendment to the party’s constitution in 1998 allows this.

But the National Advisory Council is likely to stay orphaned for some time ' till the Congress president relents and takes over its reins.

The council was scheduled to meet tomorrow to discuss the protection and promotion of Northeastern handicrafts ' an area close to Sonia’s heart. But the meeting was put off “sine die”, as a member put it.

There was a suggestion that the NAC ' which embodies the “human face” of the UPA ' should be kept going under the temporary chairmanship of the Prime Minister. But Manmohan Singh was not keen on this, the sources said.

Members recalled how Sonia would spend nearly 12 hours a day at the NAC office across her residence and were it not for its “persistence and pressure”, legislation like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill and the Right to Information Act may not have seen the light of day in the way Sonia, the Left and rights activists had envisaged.

Today, workers thronged the Congress chief’s residence all day.

Sonia, who was at home, met the chief ministers of Congress-ruled states and AICC functionaries who expressed their solidarity with her decision to quit her Lok Sabha seat and congratulated her for “upholding the high moral values” of her party.

“She was upbeat and betrayed no sign of anxiety,” said a general secretary.

After Singh returned from Amritsar in the evening, the Congress’s core committee met at his residence. It was presided over by Sonia and attended by Pranab Mukherjee, Shivraj Patil and Ahmed Patel, her political secretary.

The sources said they took stock of the week’s developments but there was no discussion on whether Parliament would be reconvened.

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