July 7, 2003, Chandigarh, India
Sonia in Shimla for Cong session
Shimla, July 6
She was received at the Oakover, the official residence of the Chief Minister where she will stay during the session, by Mr Virbhadra Singh and his wife Pratibha Singh, Ms Vidya Stokes, PCC chief, and senior Congress leaders Mr Gulam Nabi Azad, Ms Ambika Soni, Ms Mohsina Kidwai, Mr Ahmed Patel and Mr Anand Sharma.
A group of folk musicians played the welcome tune on traditional instruments like narsingha and nagara. The Congress leaders presented her with bouquets.
Due to foggy weather Ms Gandhi had to come to Shimla by road from Chandigarh. She had a brief halt at Parwanoo.
Other VVIPs who had arrived by evening included Capt Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister, Punjab, Mr Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister, Assam, Mr Digvijay Singh, Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh, Mr S.M. Krishna, Chief Minister, Karnataka, and Mr Balram Jakhar. The Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh will reach here tomorrow morning while others were expected to reach late in the night.
The Chief Ministers of the two Congress-ruled north-east states have expressed their inability to participate in the session because of personal constraints.
Political significance apart, the mega congregation of Congress leaders beginning here tomorrow will give a big boost to tourism in the hill state, feels Mr Gulam Nabi Azad, a senior Congress leader, who is looking after the arrangements for the brainstorming session.
Talking to mediapersons here today, he said the “queen of hills” would be witnessing such a big political event after a gap of more than three decades. It was in 1971 when the AICC held its plenary session here. It was followed by the momentous Indo-Pak talks which culminated in the famous Simla Agreement.
The Congress conclave would help provide much publicity to the state, particularly Shimla, its venue. He said the recent conference of Congress Chief Ministers in Srinagar revived the sick tourism industry there. The number of tourists visiting the valley shot up from a meagre 5,000 to over 60,000 in just one month. The presence of Ms Sonia Gandhi, Congress President, and 15 Chief Ministers sent the signal to the countrymen that the valley was safe to visit.
The Shimla conclave was more than five times bigger than the Srinagar meet and as such Himachal Pradesh had everything to gain from it from the tourism point of view. The state would get an opportunity to market its tourism industry through the galaxy of leaders.
He said during the three-day session, the 267 delegates would be divided into five groups to hold discussions on issues like political challenges, rural transformation, electoral preparedness and organisations reform, social empowerment and people-oriented governance. The deliberations would be held on the basis of the five working papers prepared by committees of senior leaders.
The outcome of the deliberations would be adopted by the party in the shape of Shimla declaration. It would virtually spell out the action plan of the party.
Meanwhile, the party high command has chalked out a tight schedule for the “Shimla shivir” to ensure that every minute of the delegates was utilised in purposeful deliberations, the outcome of which will serve as a blue print for the party to wrest power from the NDA at the Centre. There will be no mixing of work with pleasure as, unlike most political conferences, the VVIP participants will not be allowed any time for sightseeing or even relaxing in the cool climes of the picturesque hill station.
Business will start sharp at 9 a.m. and continue till late in the night. There is no fixed time for the close of the day. It will all depend on the course of deliberations. The delegates will be divided into five groups to discuss different issues on the basis of the working papers prepared by the party. They will be closeted in the different meeting rooms in the Peterhof complex all day and even lunch, tea and dinner will be served to them there only.
The inaugural address of Ms Sonia Gandhi, will set the tone for the brainstorming session tomorrow. Thereafter, the group deliberations will commence and continue until forenoon of July 9. The conclave will end with the valedictory speech of Ms Gandhi which will broadly outline the future action.
It will be for the first time in independent India that the erstwhile British summer capital will be playing host to such a galaxy of VVIP guests, many of whom are in the Z security category. While Ms Gandhi is a SPG protectee, there are 14 Chief Ministers, besides Mr Virbhadra Singh, and about three dozen delegates, who are being provided high security. In fact, the police authorities had a hard time in selecting well-educated and decent securitymen to escort the 55 VVIPs as personal security officers during their sojourn in the city. They have been provided two-day training so that they could discharge the VVIP duty without any glitches.
The entire area from the Oberoi Cecil hotel, where most of the VVIPs will be staying, to the Peterhof complex has been sanitised from the security point of view and a large number of policemen have been deployed to guard the area round the clock. Securitymen in plain clothes and uniform have been deployed in hotels where the delegates will be staying. The intelligence agencies will carry out a thorough anti-sabotage check of all hotels before handing over these to the police.
The city has been given a quick facelift for the mega event. Colourful arches and hoardings have been put up all over the city to welcome the VVIPs. Mr Virbhadra Singh, Chief Minister, and the Pradesh Congress Committee Chief, Ms Vidya Stokes, are personally supervising the arrangements to make the party show flawless. Mr Gulam Nabi Azad has been camping here since the past three days to oversee the arrangements. Besides going around the Peterhof complex and various hotels, he also visited Oakover, the official residence of the Chief Minister, where Ms Sonia Gandhi will be staying.
The mediapersons will not be allowed anywhere near the venue. Only the electronic media and still photographers will be permitted to cover the inaugural address. The print media will be able to view it only through the close circuit TV. A media centre has been set up some 4 km away from the venue for daily briefings.
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