The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Portrait of the goddess as Sonia
- ‘Durga’ effect worries Congress
- Whom will she slay'

Kanpur, Aug. 8: Goddess Durga has descended in Kanpur a full month and a half before she is due. In the avatar of Sonia Gandhi.

A cloth banner with a figure of the goddess as Sonia has been blowin’ in the wind at Phoolbag over the past two days. Full with the 10 arms variously armed with an axe, bow and arrow, a club and a conch, and one spearing the demon of corruption.

The cloth goddess even has a mukut (crown) of the type that the original sports, making the resemblance uncanny. And the face of Mahisha- sura has been blackened and labelled as “the face of corruption”.

All this has been done in eager anticipation of the Congress chief’s arrival here today to kickstart the campaign for next year’s Uttar Pradesh elections.

The posterwallahs haven’t forgotten the rising son either. Close to the 36ft × 15ft hoarding, some 500 yards from Sonia’s podium, is another bearing the figure of Rahul Gandhi as Krishna, towering in a chariot and vanquishing the many evils — rising prices, power cuts, bad law and order — plaguing Kanpur.

The portrait of the goddess as Sonia was the brainwave of local Congress leaders Atul Tripathi and Ravi Jaiswal who couldn’t hide their glee this morning at the amount of interest — or is it controversy' — their work of art has generated.

“Goddess Durga symbolises the victory of good over evil. Uttar Pradesh is now in the grip of a government that is fostering the forces of evil. Soniaji’s rally will mark the beginning of the end of this rule of evil,” a beaming Tripathi said.

But the rival BJP couldn’t agree with them less. The first salvo against the hoarding was fired yesterday by Kanpur BJP legislator Salil Bishnoi, who claimed the Congress needed to make up its mind about what Durga actually stood for.

According to Bishnoi, a course taught at the Indira Gandhi National Open University — he couldn’t resist a swipe at the Dynasty — allegedly described Durga as “an ungodly figure who indulged in vices”.

“But here, Durga has been invoked as the goddess of change, peace and hope. The Congress should decide who she actually is,” he smirked.

More than the BJP, however, it was the Congress that was jittery about the kind of communal signals the banner would have sent out.

A section of minority Congress leaders felt it would create terrible confusion in the minds of voters. Some angry workers even tried to burn down the hoarding last night but were reined in by police.

“We think it’s too much to see a Christian woman portrayed as a Hindu goddess,” a Christian priest said.

This morning, Congress leaders Salman Khursheed and Ashok Gehlot were aghast when they spotted the banner during a recce of Phoolbag. They had it pulled down before further damage was done.

A former Congress MLA, however, said the idea behind the hoarding — Tripathi and Jaiswal have put their faces on it too — was not to hurt religious sentiment.

“It is only a product of the perception that Sonia will be a goddess to the people of Uttar Pradesh. But such portrayals should be discouraged,” Kuldeep Singh said.

Mayor Anil Sharma, also a Congressman, plugged the same line. “We tend to admire those we worship. The hoarding is born out of this culture,” he said.

Sonia is not the first Gandhi who has been portrayed as Durga. In 1971, Indira Gandhi was called the goddess after the victory in the Bangladesh war. And it was none less than former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who said so.

Then, during the Emergency, M.F. Husain painted Indira Gandhi as Durga, sparking a controversy.

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