M A I N   N E W S

Delhi Test
Sonia hardsells N-deal
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Nellore, July 17
In this coastal town of Andhra Pradesh, the summer sun was unsparing today, so was UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who marshalled all her political arsenal to defend the nuclear deal as “one in the best interest of the country.”

Unfazed by uncertainties looming large over the fate of the UPA government ahead of the trust vote in Lok Sabha, the Congress president launched a stinging attack on the critics of nuke deal, saying there was no question of compromising India’s independent foreign policy, security interest or nuclear programme.

In an unusually offensive mood at her first public appearance since the country was plunged into political crisis following the Left’s withdrawal of support over the deal, Sonia dismissed “other parties as those following divisive politics.”

She thundered from the dais in support of PM Manmohan Singh’s “pro-poor, farmer, labourer and minority policies, backing him over the deal, saying the future generations would realise its importance.

For the crowds that gathered in lakhs at the AC Subba Reddy stadium here, Sonia’s assertions meant nothing as they least understood what was being said and in what context. But in a well-thought-out strategy to launch her poll campaign ahead of elections, Sonia not just listed UPA’s major schemes like farm loan waiver and NREGA, she also ensured she didn’t take the voters’ ignorance of the nuclear deal for granted.

Hitting a winner, she said she had come to them to explain things. And she explained in detail why the Congress, being accused of going against the interest of the country, felt the deal was “extremely important’, and why it would never compromise India’s interest as it gave India its independent foreign policy in the first place.

Mentioning the Left only once in her 25-minute address, Sonia set a background for discourse: “Recently the Left withdrew support on the issue of nuclear agreement which we have drawn up to enable more nuclear power plants to the established in India. With growth in economy, our demand for power is growing. To eliminate power cuts, we need access to nuclear technology of other countries,” Sonia said, hitting another winner: “How can we be faulted for striving to provide for our people?”

Interesting to watch was Sonia’s strategic march against her political detractors. Having convinced people that the UPA wanted the deal for them, she did what Congress does best, stir emotions. “Our leaders Indiraji, Rajivji sacrificed their lives for the interest of people. Which other party did that? We need no certificate from anyone on our interest in patriotism and country,” the Congress president declared, as Congress Working Committee member Arun Kumar translated her English speech into Telegu, adding punch to it. The crowds responded hysterically, giving Sonia every reason to revel.

No wonder her speech came out politically significant, marking a clear shift from her earlier stand towards the opponents of deal, particularly the Left. In the last UPA meeting, Sonia had been thankful to the Left. But today she was firm and offensive, signalling her readiness for elections.

She dared other parties, saying, “What our country needs most to be able to go ahead with pride is politics which unites and not politics of division which other parties follow. Let’s look ahead with confidence. Let’s strengthen the Congress.”

From the stage, Andhra CM Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Congress’ Andhra in-charge Veerappa Moily, Nellore MP Panabaka Lakshmi and Andhra Congress chief D. Srinivasa, watched in trademark awe. They were happy that Sonia had chosen a Congress stronghold to launch her campaign, happier because she mentioned Andhra generously in her speech, which was laced with socialist rhetoric, perhaps for the Left to listen.

Not only did Sonia credit India’s international power status to the sacrifices of farmers, labourers and fishermen (considering she was in a coastal town), she also said the farmers were Congress’ top priority. Earlier, she launched Rajiv Gandhi Arogyasari scheme, which provides free and quality healthcare to the poor in Andhra Pradesh.



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