The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia toils for Gandhi gala
- Rahul ‘relaunch’ buzz as mother lines up satyagraha show

Sonia, Gandhi: Going global
New Delhi, Jan. 9: Prime Ministers and Presidents, Nobel laureates and grassroots leaders will be making a beeline to Delhi this month as Sonia Gandhi gets ready to host one of the biggest international jamborees of its time.

Still, a big surmise hovers over South Block that none has the courage to confirm or deny: Rahul Gandhi is likely to be “relaunched’’ in front of the star-studded global audience marking the centenary of the Mahatma’s satyagraha on January 29-30, the anniversary of his martyrdom.

Some say the satyagraha conference is a conscious attempt at merging the mystique of the Nehru-Gandhis with the awesome mantle of the Mahatma.

Maybe that’s why when Rajmohan Gandhi, the Mahatma’s grandson, invited the Congress chief to his latest book launch on his grandfather the other day at Gandhi Smriti, she was happy to attend.

This certainly is going to be Sonia’s show, and will be reviving memories the good old days of the Non-Aligned Summit when size mattered.

Sonia has personally written to Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Mohammed Younus, South African leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Asfandyar Wali Khan (grandson of Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan), besides a few score other leaders from the world over, inviting them all.

Lech Walesa of Poland, Ahmed Kathrada of South Africa, Navinchandra Ramgoolam of Mauritius and Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk of Bhutan have confirmed their participation. So have leaders from Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Indonesia (Megawati Sukarnoputri), Nepal (deputy Prime Minister M.K.P. Sharma Oli), Cuba, Moldova, Mali, Guinea, Sudan and Sierra Leone.

Maybe the conference, coming on the eve of the Uttar Pradesh elections, is Delhi’s way of atoning for its latest dalliance with America. Or perhaps more and more Congress members are beginning to feel India shouldn’t be cold-shouldering its Cold War friends.

Whatever the reason, barely weeks after George Bush’s America gave India a leg-up to become the world’s sixth nuclear power in all but name, Cold War jargon could be having a field day at Vigyan Bhavan.

As for young Rahul, perhaps the conference will see the persistently shy Amethi MP come out of the national closet, just like his father Rajiv, grandmother Indira and great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, all of whom had a natural appetite for foreign affairs.

After all, his only official overseas visits have been the one to Kabul with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the trip to the UN General Assembly last year as part of a bumper delegation.

No one yet knows if Rahul will speak at the conference. “It’s a very sensitive matter,’’ sources said, adding that the only thing that could be confirmed was that junior foreign minister Anand Sharma, the convener of the conference’s organising committee, had met him.

So it could still be like the 1983 NAM summit in New Delhi, when Fidel Castro publicly hugged Indira and called her “my sister’’ and Rajiv, then a Congress general secretary, was shown off to the world.

Both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh have said they would have loved to come, but can’t because of the election at home. Maldivian President Abdul Gayoom is attending; so is Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka. Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf wasn’t invited but Asma Jahangir was and she’s coming, too.

To be sure, American satyagrahi Gene Sharp (latest book: Waging Non-Violent Struggle: 20th-century practice and 21st-century potential), is attending.

Other than Anand Sharma, whose interest in South Africa, its people and the African National Congress leadership has survived the end of the Cold War, the organising committee boasts several bigwigs. Among them are Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, Indian Council for Cultural Relations president Karan Singh, defence minister A.K. Antony and tourism and culture minister Ambika Soni.

The conference’s four-point programme is the following: a non-violent approach to conflict resolution and peace-building; the Gandhian philosophy of poverty eradication, education and people’s empowerment; dialogue among peoples and cultures; and (a movement) towards a nuclear weapons-free and non-violent world order.

All serious issues, but does the buzz around “Gandhigiri” come through as a sort of background noise' Especially since the Congress doesn’t seem the only party courting the Mahatma’s legacy — L.K. Advani had made it a point to be seen at Rajmohan Gandhi’s book launch.

Historian Mushirul Hasan, though, doesn’t believe that there’s a revival in interest or a new vote bank. “Any liberal regime in India tends to nurture the memories of Gandhi and Nehru,’’ he said.

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