SONIA DIP REAPS POLITICAL WHIRLWIND 

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By FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN IN LLAHABAD AND RASHEED KIDWAI IN NEW DELHI
  • Published 22.01.01
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Over-ruling security considerations and a plea from the mela administration to avoid the Kumbh congregation till January 24, Sonia Gandhi will reach Triveni tomorrow morning to take a holy dip in a visit laced with political controversy. News of Sonia's visit to the Kumbh has churned the political "triveni" of the Congress, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh. They maintain that the Congress chief's visit - two days before the season's second shahi snan on amavasya (January 24) - has become a political issue rather than an administrative problem or a religious ritual. Congress leader Pramod Tiwari accused the BJP-led government of politicising Sonia's Allahabad trip. "The BJP has converted it into a political decision which the administration has sought to implement. But all that Soniaji is doing is maintaining her family tradition. Panditji used to come to the Kumbh and later Indiraji used to visit Anandmayee Ma's camp at the mela," he said. Alleging that the Allahabad administration was bent on blocking Sonia's Sangam visit on the "pretext that it may disrupt their arrangements", Tiwari wondered why the human resources development minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, was permitted to take a dip on January 14 - makar sankranti. "Joshi also has almost the same kind of security as Soniaji," he pointed out. VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore's riposte to Tiwari's poser was: "There's a difference. Joshiji belongs to Allahabad so it is his birthright." Tiwari argued that Sonia would not pose a security threat because "she is not coming on a major bathing day and neither will she address a public meeting". He said the Congress was ready to reschedule her visit according to the administration's convenience. "If they cannot arrange the visit of the leader of the Opposition, how can they manage two crore pilgrims?" Tiwari asked. Sources at 10 Janpath made light of a "routine circular" that had gone to all VIPs asking them to avoid Kumbh till amavasya on January 24, claiming that it was merely an "advisory". They alleged that the Sangh was rattled by Sonia's decision to perform what they described as a "private" and "religious" obligation. The Samajwadi Party felt Sonia's Kumbh foray was meant to be a "signal to tell people she is well versed in the culture of this country". "It is a way of telling Hindus she belongs to this religion after her marriage to Rajiv," said Samajwadi leader Reoti Raman Singh. To buttress his observation, Singh pointed out that Mulayam Yadav did not visit Kumbh while on a trip to the city today to attend a marriage. "This is because Mulayam's constituents do not really care whether he took a dip in the Sangam or not," he said. The Congress, on the other hand, he explained, was trying to win back sections of the Brahmins and other upper castes who had shifted to the BJP during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. "For these sections, gestures like a visit to Kumbh have a lot of symbolic value. For our backward caste voters, bread-butter issues are more important," said Singh. Sonia will also call on Swami Swaroopanand, the Shankaracharya of Jyotishpeeth, at the Kumbh venue at 12 noon tomorrow. The VHP, which yesterday raved and ranted about Sonia's Christian antecedents in its dharam sansad, modulated its response today. "It shows that Sonia has finally accepted Hindutva as the mainstream of this country," Bajrang Dal chief Surendranath Jain said.