Congress president Sonia Gandhi and MP Israrul Haq wave at the people in Kishanganj on Thursday. Picture by Mehedi Hedaytullah
Kishanganj, Jan. 30: Sonia Gandhi today used the foundation-laying event of Aligarh Muslim University’s centre here to kick off the Congress’s campaign for the Lok Sabha polls, blazing all guns against “communal forces that killed Mahatma Gandhi”.
But Sonia, also the UPA chairperson, confined her attack to the BJP, refraining from targeting Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United) even obliquely, mindful of the fact that the Bihar chief minister could come in handy in a post-poll scenario.
Nitish, though, wasn’t so generous and used the occasion to attack the Congress for “betraying” Bihar by denying it special state status.
Nitish is cut up with the Congress ever since the party began cosying up to Lalu Prasad’s RJD and doesn’t spare any opportunity to attack it.
Today’s event was preceded by days of acrimony with Bihar’s education minister writing an angry letter to the Union HRD ministry for keeping the state in the “dark” over Sonia’s visit.
The state government feels the Congress wants to hog all credit for the AMU centre in Kishenganj, a Lok Sabha constituency dominated by Muslims who are being wooed by both parties. The seat is now represented by the Congress’s Israrul Haq.
Nitish, whom the Centre invited to the function at the last minute, eventually joined Sonia at the foundation stone laying ceremony. But in a calculated effort to deny the Congress president the credit for the project, he said: “The world knows that the AMU’s centre has come up at the suggestion and assistance of the state government.”
Though the chief minister was not invited to share the dais with Sonia at a public meeting after the function, he made it a point to severely criticise the Congress for “betraying” the cause of Bihar. He even dared the Congress to withdraw support to his government. “If the Congress wants, it can withdraw its support to us. We are not afraid of it,” he remarked.
The JD(U) has 118 MLAs and requires the help of the Congress’s four members to reach the majority mark in the Assembly.
However, what might have given Nitish — keen to win over Muslims after parting ways with the BJP over Narendra Modi — anxious moments was the presence of over one lakh enthusiastic people cheering Sonia in what is known as the “Muslim bastion” of Bihar.
Ignoring Nitish’s diatribe, Sonia recalled Mahatma Gandhi — who was assassinated this day in 1948 — and stuck to her warning of how dangerous the communal forces (read BJP) were to what India stood for.
“Today is Gandhiji’s sixty-fifth death anniversary. A person with communal ideology took his life. Now again, similar communal forces are emerging in our country and conspiring to break the peace and amity among different communities who are living together,” she said.
The crowd at Sonia’s meeting was drawn from the wider areas of Purnea, Katihar, Araria besides Kishenganj — all dominated by Muslims. The gathering offered a glimpse of four Lok Sabha — Purnea, Araria, Katihar and Kishenganj — providing her with an apt platform to kick off her party’s election campaign.
Sonia also did not forget to mention how forthcoming the Congress-led government at the Centre had been in developing Bihar.
“Bihar has not had a Congress government for some time. But we have done everything to ensure the progress of the state. In the past 10 years, during UPA rule, we have sanctioned Rs 1.34 lakh crore for development of this state,” she said. “The UPA government has also worked to ensure that students in madarsas are provided with modern education.”
In the course of her 15-minute speech, Sonia also reminded the audience in Kishanganj that the Congress has kept its word on setting up the AMU centre.
She also assured that similar efforts would be made by her and her party to implement some other demands raised by Haq, the local MP, which includes an AIIMS-standard hospital in Raiganj and industrial units to generate local employment.
In Patna, former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi attacked chief minister Nitish Kumar. He said Nitish was giving false information about the BJP opposing the Aligarh Muslim University.
Modi said the BJP had never opposed setting up of the university and had, in fact, supported the proposal strongly when it came in the cabinet. However, members of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad burnt Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s effigy opposing the Centre’s move to open the AMU branch in Kishanganj.