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Sonia skips greetings for prayer

New Delhi, Dec. 28: Sonia Gandhi cancelled the Congress’s New Year celebrations over the Delhi gang rape and Manmohan Singh promised speedy justice, the announcements on the party’s foundation day today turning the event into a low-key affair.

The Congress chief even dispensed with her customary New Year wishes to party leaders and workers.

“Not so (New Year greetings) today because our thoughts are with the young woman who is fighting for her life after the barbarous attack,” she said in her first public reaction on the atrocity.

After unfurling the Congress flag, she announced the party would skip its 127th foundation-day celebrations and pray for the victim as she fights for life in a Singapore hospital.

Sonia said she wished the 23-year-old girl “recovers and comes back to us”. “Our only wish today is that she recovers and that no time is lost in bringing the perpetrators of such a barbarous act to justice,” the Congress president said.

Prime Minister Singh, who spoke after Sonia, pledged to do just that. “You have my assurance, that our government is committed to bringing the guilty to justice as soon as possible.”

The statements of the two top leaders and their decision to make the foundation day a low-key affair was seen as a reflection of the desire in the party and the Centre to handle the issue sensitively, aware that public anger is directed against the government.

“The Congress president has mentioned that we share the anguish and the anger of the country over this heinous crime. Our prayers are with the brave young girl and that best possible medical care is being provided to her. Our prayers are with her for her speedy recovery,” the Prime Minister said.

Singh said two committees, one headed by Justice J.S. Verma and the other by Justice Usha Mehra, had been constituted to suggest ways to strengthen laws on crimes against women.

The Prime Minister and Sonia later met Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit and other senior leaders at the party headquarters to discuss the issue. Rahul Gandhi was not present at the ceremony.

Although today’s statement was Sonia’s first in public on the December 16 gang rape, she had earlier written to Shinde and Diskhit seeking firm steps for women’s security and describing the incident as a “matter of shame”.

The issue was also discussed on Tuesday at a meeting of the Congress core group, chaired by Sonia and attended by the Prime Minister. The Congress president was learnt to have stressed the need for police to address the matter with greater sensitivity.