The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia spark for Cong

March 30: Sonia Gandhi today gave the Congress’ election campaign in Assam a leg-up, drawing huge crowds at all four places she visited and reassuring the ruling party’s traditional votebanks ' the minorities and tea tribes ' of “safety and prosperity”.

The whirlwind tour from one end of the state to the other took Sonia to Silchar, Nazira, Tinsukia and Chaygaon ' all carefully chosen venues ' and closer to sections of the electorate that have always played a decisive role in any Congress victory or defeat in the state.

Her speeches focused on minorities in Silchar and Chaygaon and the tea tribes in Tinsukia and Nazira. In between appeasing these captive vote banks, the Congress president made an oblique reference to Kakopathar, where people last month rose in mutiny against security forces over a daily wage-earner’s death in army custody and eight casualties in firing on protesters.

Sonia said she regretted the “unfortunate incidents” that took place in Tinsukia district recently.

As the focus of her speeches changed with the venues, so did her attire ' a light-green sari in Silchar, a traditional Assamese mekhala-chador in Nazira and an off-white sari with a black border in Tinsukia and Chaygaon.

The Congress chief spent 25-30 minutes at each place, addressing the crowds in Hindi and blaming the party’s main challenger in Assam ' the Asom Gana Parishad ' and the main bugbear in Delhi ' the BJP ' for the ills plaguing the state.

But she was silent on the Assam United Democratic Front, a new conglomerate of organisations representing minorities that is eyeing the Congress’ traditional support base.

In Silchar, where minorities constitute a sizeable section of the electorate, she said the community had no reason to be insecure even in the absence of the IM (DT) Act.

Sonia said the Delhi would ensure an amendment to the Foreigners Act to set up tribunals to examine the veracity of complaints against suspected illegal migrants. The Congress, she claimed, was not trying to abet infiltration from Bangladesh, but was worried about bonafide citizens being harassed in the name of detecting and deporting migrants.

In Tinsukia, the Congress chief said a comprehensive policy for the welfare of the tea tribes was being drafted, but pleaded her inability to elaborate lest it be construed as a violation of the model code of conduct. “We are aware of the problems of the industry. We will sort it out,” she said.

Nazira saw Sonia expounding the virtues of the Tarun Gogoi government.

“Assam saw vikas (development) in the past five years under the Tarun Gogoi-led government like never before,” she said.

In Chaygaon, the Congress president reminded the people that their votes would determine the future of Assam. She said the state was “safe” in the “hands” of the Congress.

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