The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia roadshow rolls after chopper crash

Khanvel (Dadra & Nagar Haveli), March 16: Sonia Gandhi’s western roadshow got off to an inauspicious start as minutes after she had touched down safely, a second helicopter carrying three Congress leaders crash-landed here, injuring general secretary in charge of Gujarat Prithviraj Chauhan and the pilot.

Ahmed Patel, Sonia’s political secretary, and another leader Kumari Selja escaped unhurt.

The chopper started rocking about 15 metres above the ground in its landing descent. Chauhan, who was sitting on the left, was thrown out as the door flew open and fell face down. He was admitted to the Silvassa civil hospital, where he received four stitches on his forehead. He is stated to be “stable and out of danger”.

Patel and Selja jumped to safety as the chopper landed with a thud and ran away from the juddering craft. Police personnel rushed in and rescued the pilot and the co-pilot.

“Allah has saved me,” said a shaken Patel, trying to remain composed. “Every thing was all right. The take-off was perfect. We don’t know what went wrong.”

Selja, who joined the roadshow with Patel, said the “chopper began to shake vigorously just 5-7 feet before landing and the vibration shattered the glass”.

The mishap occurred around 2.30 pm, minutes after Sonia landed for her Jansampark Abhiyan beginning from the tribal-dominated Union territory on the Maharashtra border. The helicopter, belonging to Delhi-based Ace Aviation, had taken off from Mumbai at 1.54 pm.

Sonia, wearing a grey sari, visited the injured in hospital before embarking on the public contact programme in the tiny territory once considered a Congress bastion. The two-day roadshow will cover a major portion of the tribal belt in south Gujarat where the Congress hopes to recapture two seats from the BJP, besides Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Valsad that she toured today.

Sonia spoke little as she greeted the people who lined her route. Perhaps the mishap and a faux pas — she mistook a woman reporter at the helipad for a local tribal and asked what she did for a living — had unsettled her.

At Silvassa, Sonia received a lukewarm response from the people of the tribal constituency, where four-time MP Mohan Daler, who leads a party of his own, holds sway.

She entered Bhilad village to a better reception — hundreds stood waiting for her braving the scorching heat. From Vapi to Daman, at many places she stopped for five to 10 minutes, but only waved at the people or greeted them.

Still, the people seemed impressed, even with her “eloquent silence”. But she would have won more hearts if she had lent an ear to the woes of many like Manjuben, who does not want to part with her land that the government has unilaterally decided to acquire for an airport.

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