|The blaze at the Jubilee
Hyderabad, July 1: Pranab Mukherjee narrowly avoided getting caught in a near-stampede during his visit to Hyderabad today to seek votes for the presidential election.
Minutes after the septuagenarian UPA candidate had left the Jubilee Hall this afternoon after campaigning among 200-odd Congress legislators, smoke billowed into the venue. It set off a panicked rush towards the exit, but no one was hurt.
Legislative affairs minister Sridhar Babu later blamed a short-circuit in an air-conditioner at the 101-year-old hall, built by the last Nizam and used for all official banquets.
“It is a minor incident caused by heavy load on the AC system,” he said.
One Congress minister felt a different kind of heat. After Mukherjee arrived from Chennai, he was presented with shawls at the airport by chief minister Kiran Reddy and others. But labour minister Danam Nagender was delayed and reached the airport just as Mukherjee’s convoy was passing through the gates.
As Nagender stopped the motorcade and held out a shawl, Mukherjee, known for his quick temper, brushed him away and asked the driver to drive on.
However, the UPA candidate himself could not escape demonstrations of ire. These came from pro-Telangana Dalit groups that protested his candidature near the airport and the Jubilee Hall before being removed by police.
Even the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Joint Action Council spearheading the statehood campaign and Osmania University students had planned demonstrations but dropped the idea at the last moment.
There’s a widespread belief among Telangana campaigners that Mukherjee, a mover and shaper of Congress and central government decisions, has been a stumbling block in the path of statehood.
“A Telangana state has been delayed only because of Mukherjee,” TRS leader Harish Rao recently said.
Some 150-odd Congress MLAs, eight MLCs, 31 Lok Sabha MPs and 18 Rajya Sabha members had packed into Jubilee Hall to listen to Mukherjee, who cited his Andhra Pradesh link.
“I have visited Hyderabad and other cities such as Vijayawada several times with great Congress leaders such as Srimati Indira Gandhi,” Mukherjee, who was accompanied by Union ministers Ghulam Nabi Azad and Vayalar Ravi, said.
Later, at a news conference, he issued an appeal for support to parties that are yet to decide their vote, such as the Telugu Desam Party, TRS and the YSR Congress which together account for 116 MLAs.
Mukherjee met seven MLAs of the friendly party, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, at a hotel where he stopped for lunch before boarding a chartered flight for the Bangalore leg of his campaign.
He could not meet TRS leaders despite the Congress’s best efforts, and apparently did not seek meetings with the Telugu Desam brass. He was disappointed to learn that YSR Congress working president Y.S. Vijayamma was out of town but spoke to her over the phone.