The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Past sin revisits as gaffe

New Delhi, Aug. 18: Sonia Gandhi did not disappoint her anxious followers in the Congress camp, including her daughter Priyanka Gandhi, as she made a marathon, combative speech.

And then she ruined it all herself. The feel-good atmosphere in the Congress benches generated by her 70-minute speech did not last even until the members took a brief lunch break.

In her eagerness to consolidate the advantage gained from her speech, Sonia made a huge gaffe when deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani was intervening in the debate on the no-trust motion as the government’s first speaker.

Advani was countering her charge that the government was brazenly denigrating parliamentary and constitutional institutions one after the other. “The leader of the Opposition should know that the Congress had imposed Emergency on the country for 19 months” before making such allegations, he said.

Trying to put Advani on the defensive, Sonia stood up to tell him that “some people (jailed under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act) had written to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, seeking their release from jail”.

She did not name the persons, but asserted that she was in possession of the letters, putting foot firmly in mouth.

Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar rose from the Opposition camp to protest. Sonia’s “sweeping” statement was highly “objectionable”, he said. “If she has the letters, she should disclose them but not make sweeping remarks,” he said.

Emboldened by Chandra Shekhar’s strong words, BJP chief whip V.K. Malhotra went a step further. “In the 1975-77 period, Sonia was not even an Indian national. How did she get papers from the Prime Minister’s Office'” he asked.

Advani challenged her to clarify her allegation. Such a clarification was necessary as thousands of people went to jail opposing the Emergency, he said.

Sonia chose to remain silent, realising — if a little too late — her attempt at offence had boomeranged, taking the debate away from the objective of parading what it considers the government’s failures.

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