The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia at dead Sonia door
Sonia with Indira. (PTI)

Kumbakonam, July 18: In the birth of two girls, Congress first family names — Sonia and Priyanka — entered this modest home on College Road.

Today, in their death, Sonia Gandhi entered Palaniammal’s house.

“The death of my granddaughters has brought the Congress leader to our house,” wailed the grandmother of the two children, who died in Friday’s school fire that killed 90 students.

Palaniammal and her husband have named their children after Nehru-Gandhi family members. Sonia was a student of Class III and Priyanka was in Class IV. They also have a three-year-old son, Rahul, and an eight-month-old daughter, Indira.

Her parents are devout Congress supporters. Sonia Gandhi took Palaniammal’s hands in her own, but the mother could utter no word to break the torrent of her weeping.

One of the relatives explained how the bodies of the two girls could be identified in the hospital after over four hours of search from the colour of their undergarments.

Little Sonia’s face was barely discernible.

“I wanted to tell Soniaji that the teachers did not come to the rescue of the children but there was no time,” the grandmother said later.

Petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who accompanied Sonia Gandhi, conveyed the Congress president’s feelings to the family members in Tamil.

Earlier, she had offered flowers at the graves of the two children, a homage Rahul Gandhi also paid on his visit to Kumbakonam yesterday.

Sonia Gandhi, who later visited the school building and the homes of some of the victims, said the tragedy had “shocked and stunned the whole country”. “We have to learn from this tragedy,” she said.

Sonia Gandhi spent 30 minutes with the injured children in the burns ward of the government hospital here. She announced on behalf of the Prime Minister a Rs 1-crore rehabilitation package.

Each of the families of the 90 deceased children will receive Rs 50,000 and each injured child Rs 10,000. Another Rs 50 lakh will be spent on a pilot project to improve the facilities in schools in and around Kumbakonam, including fireproof roofing and training school staff and cooks in preliminary fire-fighting techniques.

Jaya targets thatched roof

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