Irate Congress workers rough up own leaders


Kumar Vikram/ Deepak Kr Jha/ New Delhi: Congress workers would accept nobody but Sonia Gandhi as the Prime Minister. They kept the pressure on all through the day and gave vent to their feelings as they roughed up those who even dared to say M of Manmohan. Those on the receiving end included among others party leader Mani Shanker Aiyar. Worse, Mr Aiyar was labelled a "BJP-stooge" when he told a television channel that Manmohan Singh was likely to be the next Prime Minister.

At about 2.15 pm, as the dust haze that has enveloped the Capital hung low over Akbar Road, Mr Aiyar came out of the AICC headquarters. He was requested to climb onto the van of a foreign television channel. As he began talking about Dr Singh, came a youth dashing at him, saying: "Manmohan Singh Pradhan Mantri nahi ban sakta. Soniaji ko tayyar karo." Before the diplomat-turned-politician could explain, another pulled at his kurta, tearing a portion away. He was then abused and accused of being a "BJP dalal" before a few National Students' Union of India (NSUI) volunteers gave him cover, sparing him the wrath of the angry Congress workers. A few policemen arrived subsequently to his rescue. Nevertheless, Mr Aiyar completed his interview, the torn kurta notwithstanding.

Another Congress MP, Ashwini Kumar, had met a similar fate an hour earlier. Sonia-supporters hurled missiles at Mr Kumar as he came out of the CNN van after briefing the channel on the latest developments. He was rescued from their clutches by New Delhi Deputy Commissioner of Police Anita Roy, who has been having a difficult time keeping the law and order situation under control in the high-security district.

In between, source of sustenance for the supporters were a man in a drunken state who climbed atop an NDMC water tanker and started shouting slogans. His spicy slogans were: Kursi ke bhukhe bhediya ab videhsi mool kahne lage, baal kataye, dhong rachaye, dekho yeh kya khel hai, nahi chayie sona chandi, hame chaiye Sonia Gandhi. He laced his slogan-shouting with a threat to commit suicide along with his wife and six children, if Ms Gandhi did does not become the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, late in the evening the doors of 10 Janpath were opened to Sonia-supporters after the Congress president returned from the Rashtrapati Bhawan. "Aap logo ke pyar or vishwas ki main abhari hoon. Maine desh ke hit mein ek acha nirnay liya hai aur aap uska samman kare," Ms Gandhi told her supporters as she asked them to return home.

The day's demonstrations were led by the Bihar Congress troupe with state party president Ram Jatan Sinha announcing a fast unto death, demanding that the Congress president must reconsider her decision. Mr Sinha appeared to have inspired Delhi Youth Congress president Rajesh Lilothia to join the fast.

The Congress supporters vented their ire at anybody or anything which did not endorse their view. The agitated workers smashed the main gate of the media hall at the AICC headquarters where party general secretary Ambika Soni was briefing the Press on political developments.

The party workers first tried to enter the media room where Ms Soni and S Jaipal Reddy were addressing a crowded Press conference. Failing to do so, they pelted stones and smashed the window panes, disrupting the meeting and injuring a journalist. Ms Soni and Mr Reddy stopped the briefing midway and left the hall through a side door.

"Either it is Sonia or nobody," was the common refrain of the Congress workers. Ms Soni, who is seen as a close confidante of the Congress president, addressed party's women workers outside 10, Janpath, the residence of the Congress president. She requested them to calm down and allow Ms Gandhi to reach a decision, which in her perception was best for the party and the people of the country.

A large number of supporters from Ms Gandhi's constituency Rae Bareli and Rahul Gandhi's constituency Amethi had gathered there and had continued their hunger strike. They raised slogans hailing Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra. "Rai Bareli, Amethi ka toofan, badle sara Hindustan" were the popular slogans.

By the evening, the Bihar and Delhi supporters were outnumbered by the Haryana brigade. This forced a fresh review of the security cordon by Joint Commissioner of Police Maxwell Pereira. Soon, Central para-military personnel were deployed to beef-up security around the residence and the office of the Congress president.

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