| Sonia Gandhi waves to supporters at an election rally in Dimapur on Thursday. (PTI) |
Dimapur, Feb. 7: AICC president Sonia Gandhi took her time coming, behind schedule by about one-and-a-half hours when she reached the Dimapur District Sports Council ground here around 2.30 pm.
The tone for what was to follow had, however, been already set by the Scorpions with their “wind of change” that the organisers of the election meeting played over and over again to a crowd that sat through under the blaze of a summer-bound sun.
The announcer did his bit to keep the crowd engaged — making them rehearse the lines they should chant once Madam arrives and speaking of the winds of change that the Congress would bring if voted to power after a decade in the wilderness.
“You have suffered 10 years of pain, wait for only 10 minutes for change,” he said, finally indicating Sonia Gandhi’s expected time of arrival.
Sonia’s delay meant that only she got a chance to speak at the meeting. And barring a short welcome address by former deputy chief minister I.K. Sema, the rest of her entourage, which included Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Nabam Tuki, senior party leader Ambika Soni and the party’s Northeast in-charge, L. Falerio, had to wait for another day.
She came here from Mokokchung where she had addressed another poll rally for the February 23 Assembly elections.
“It is time to turn your back on this corrupt government, this dark chapter, it is time for change,” she exhorted, shifting gears as she went along to put the ruling Naga People’s Front on the mat.
She had done her homework, too.
For instance, she asked, where was the Rs 89 crore given by the Centre for development of the tourism sector? Or, what had become of the Rs 72 crore meant for the cricket stadium here? And, apart from the few electric poles “here and there” where had the Rs 233 crore, meant for rural electrification, disappeared?
She had prepared the answers too: “The funds given by the UPA government have been siphoned off, not used for you, the people of Nagaland.”
She said the government had institutionalised corruption at all levels. To her “brothers and sisters of Dimapur and Nagaland”, particularly the women and youth, her advice was to stand up and say “enough is enough”.
Referring to the peace talks between the NSCN (I-M) and the Centre, she said the UPA government was committed to finding an amicable settlement that was “acceptable to all concerned” and that it would be “finalised as soon as possible.”
That there was hardly any applause to this probably mirrored the people’s mind about what they actually thought of the peace process that has been underway for the past 15 years.
Promising that the Congress would preserve Naga identity and the Naga way of life, she said it was the only national party that could be found in every village of the country.
That the Congress did not put up any candidate for the prestigious Kohima town constituency in the heart of the state capital is, of course, another matter.
However, the party is better off in Dimapur district, where out of five seats it holds four, including the only unreserved seat in the state that has a 60-strong Assembly.
In a parting shot, Sonia asked the people of Nagaland to make a wise choice, “Vote for the Congress, vote for a new future of Nagaland, for every section, for women, youth and children.”
She ended her 30-minute visit with a walk along and across the bamboo barricade separating her from the voters, waving to them, and to a “thank you, Madam,” from one in the crowd, she said: “You must do it.”
Nagaland goes to polls on February 23.
Even before she and her entourage was out of the ground, the Scorpions were back: The wind of change/ Blows straight into the face of time/ Like a stormwind that will ring the freedom bell/ For peace of mind/ Let your balalaika sing/ What my guitar wants to say.