The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dust stalls pilgrim Sonia

Katra Reasi, May 3: Sonia Gandhi’s plans to emulate her mother-in-law were today upset by the forces of nature.

Twenty-five years ago, Indira Gandhi visited the Vaishno Devi shrine in the Trikuta hills of the Shivalik range before launching the Congress-I and staged a comeback to power in the 1980 general elections.

Today, the daughter-in-law of the late Prime Minister was to seek the blessings of the deity before embarking on the campaign to bring her party back to power at the Centre. But the thick dust haze that engulfed Delhi and the rest of north India prevented the Congress president from taking off because of poor visibility.

Some observers tried to give the incident a divine twist, while others said haze and dust storms do hit this region at this time of the year.

For the Congress, the rally the party president was to address was crucial as it was being held a fortnight after Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Srinagar where the Prime Minister’s offer of friendship to Pakistan set the ball rolling for improvement in bilateral relations.

Sonia’s rally was meant to counter that — both in terms of crowds and the speech.

The Congress, a partner in the coalition government led by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, had left no stone unturned to make the rally a success.

Congress leaders were surveying the crowd with a twinkle in their eyes and hoping to get a pat from Sonia for their efforts.

Hundreds of vehicles from all parts of Jammu had transported thousands of men, women and children to the stadi-um where Congress flags were flying.

The swelling crowd added to their enthusiasm. The crowds were larger than in Vajpayee’s rally in Srinagar and the people were waiting patiently to hear Sonia tell them about the Congress programme.

Congress members were looking forward to the fireworks from their leader against the Vajpayee government. But the dust haze played spoilsport.

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