The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Old Sonia speech in new garb

Tuibuong (Churachandpur), Feb. 12: She made a sartorial statement with a phanek wrapped around her off-white silk Manipuri sari and said “thank you” in the Kuki dialect when the crowd roared.

But for those who were hoping that the death of another youth in an alleged fake encounter and the protests that followed would move Sonia Gandhi to say something more substantial than “vote for Congress”, the two rallies that she attended today were disappointing.

“Voting for the Congress is voting for a better future, where every Manipuri can live with dignity and security. So you come out in large numbers to vote for the Congress,” she said in Tuibuong.

Since Sonia last visited Manipur on February 5, the state has witnessed a series of protests over the death of A. Shyamchand Singh, shot by police commandos hours after a peaceful first phase of polling. His family and neighbours say Shyamchand was a private tutor who had stepped out of home to buy medicines for his wife, but the police insist that he was a militant and had died in an encounter.

The Congress president made no mention of the incident either at Tuibuong or at Khopum in Tamenglong district. She only repeated the Congress’s “sensitivity” to the situation in Manipur.

“The historical Kangla Fort has been handed over to the people and our government is also sensitive and responsive to the demand of the people for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. A beginning has been made by removing the act from seven Assembly constituencies,” she said at Tuibuong, under Saikot constituency.

She was silent on the topic of “territorial integrity”.

The 15-minute speech ended with her saying “Kakipage”, which means “thank you” in Kuki. The crowd responded by shouting “Soniaji damsothen (long live Soniaji)”.

The cheers grew louder as Sonia dashed towards the crowd after finishing her speech, much to the annoyance of the Special Protection Group personnel assigned to her. Nobody else complained. “I had only seen her only on television. Today, I saw her from close, almost handshaking distance. She waved at me,” said Lhing Tadou, a college student.

As the helicopter that brought her here took off again amid cries of “Soniaji mangpha (Soniaji, goodbye)”, Congress candidate and T.N. Haokip would have made a silent wish for a similar response on polling day.

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