Tuesday, January 23, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Sonia bathes in Sangam
It has political overtones, cries BJP
From K.G. Dutt
Tribune News Service

KUMBHNAGAR (Allahabad), Jan 22 — Over five million pilgrims today took a holy dip in the waters at the Sangam on the occasion of ‘‘Magh Shiva Triodshi’’. Among the pilgrims was Mrs Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress. Mrs Gandhi reached the city an hour behind schedule under pressure and counter pressure to cancel her visit. She came despite the denial of permission to her by the mela administration.

Mrs Gandhi drove down from Anand Bhawan to Saraswati Ghat, a military controlled area, in a bullet-proof Ambassador (DL-2CH-4781). She reached the ghat at 2.25 p.m. The administration was waiting for her since 10 a.m. with ‘‘black cat’’ commandos and four boats of the SPG along with the UP Police which scanned the entire area. Sniffer dogs were put into operation. The entire area was cordoned off.

The UP Police was at pains to ensure that no mediaperson entered the area. This reporter had to wait for more than four hours after sneaking into the area before Mrs Gandhi’s arrival.

Mrs Gandhi, draped in a maroon sari and a peach shawl, immediately descended the stairs to reach the banks of the Yamuna where boats were waiting to carry her to the Sangam. She was accompanied by Mr Makhan Lal Fotedar, Mr Sushil Kumar Shinde, General Secretary of the AICC, Mr Anil Shashtri, Mr Jaiswal, president of UPCC, Mr Parmod Tiwari, Leader of the Congress Legislature Party, and Ms Ranjana Vajpayee.

Immediately after reaching the ghat, she stepped into a boat with a blue canopy. The SPG did not allow any other Congress leader with her in the boat. The other leaders accompanied her in three other boats.

There were heated arguments between Mr Parmod Tiwari and police officials on the issue. In the meanwhile, Mrs Gandhi’s boat had reached mid-stream.

Later, Mr Tiwari brought back his boat to the banks and was allowed to take only 12 persons from the electronic media up to the Sangam.

After reaching the Sangam, Mrs Gandhi poured the sacred waters of the Ganga, the Yamuna and invisible Saraswati on her head. She washed her feet and arms but did not enter the waters to take a dip.

She made floral offerings at the Sangam. Enthusiastic supporters of Mrs Gandhi raised slogans in her support as pilgrims greeted her with folded hands. She came back to the Saraswati Ghat after 45 minutes and changed in a tent nearby.

In an informal talk with mediapersons, she said the aim of her visit was purely religious. Replying to a question on the Ram Mandir construction resolution passed by the VHP, she alleged that the VHP was inciting communal passions.

Later, Mr Jai Parkash Jaiswal, President of the UPCC, said Mrs Gandhi had visited the Sangam to fulfil ‘‘family tradition and obligations’’. There was nothing political in the visit. He said the Congress would oppose any ‘‘anti-constitutional’’ move by the VHP with regard to the Ram Temple construction.

Mrs Gandhi also visited the camp of Satpal Maharaj and sought blessings from sants and sadhus. She is reported to have visited the cave of Dwarka Peeth Shankracharya Swami Swaroopa Nand ji.

NEW DELHI (PTI): The BJP today claimed that Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s visit to Mahakumbh Mela in Allahabad was an attempt to steal the limelight and derive political mileage.

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