The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gujarat cloud on Oxford lecture

New Delhi, Nov. 20: The Gujarat elections have cast a shadow over Sonia Gandhi’s proposed visit to Oxford University, whose Islamic centre has invited her to deliver a lecture.

Sonia is scheduled to be in Oxford from November 28 to 30 but some of her close advisers are sharply divided over whether she should go to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.

K. Natwar Singh and Salman Khursheed are keen that the AICC chief visit the Islamic seat of learning.

However, another section of Congressmen feels that her visit to the Islamic centre could be turned into an election issue by the BJP and the VHP.

Narendra Modi and Praveen Togadia have been concentrating their firepower on Sonia at public meetings, alleging a “nexus” and a “Christian conspiracy” between the Congress president and chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh.

Last week, Sonia had abruptly called off an iftar to mark the Ramazan month. While she had cited riots and drought in many parts of the country as reasons, several Congressmen were convinced that it had to do with the Gujarat polls.

They pointed out that the two professed reasons did not prevent her from setting November 21 as the date for the iftar and sending out invitations. But she called it off once Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced that he would not be holding the customary iftar this year.

The Oxford Islamic centre is headed by Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, a renowned historian from Aligarh Muslim University. It has a chair named after the late Maulana Ali Mian, former rector of the Nadwa theological school in Lucknow. The centre has been holding inter-faith dialogue as well as seminars and publishing books.

In the academic world, a degree of prestige is attached to all those who are invited to give a lecture there. Sources close to Sonia said she did not want to miss the “honour”. In the past, Nelson Mandela, Prince Charles and Kofi Annan have given the lecture.

Sonia today told her parliamentary party that the first major test before the Congress was in Gujarat. She said that by the end of next year, there will be Assembly polls in nine states, including five ruled by the Congress. “Devote full strength and might as the next 12 months are going to be election-intensive,” Sonia said.

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