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Vajpayee lied about Bofors: Sonia

Posted: Feb 04, 2004 at 1540 hrs IST

This article was published in The Indian Express on 14 February 1998

Sonia Gandhi used the penultimate day of campaigning in Delhi to launch her most vitriolic attack yet on the BJP, accusing Atal Behari Vajpayee of "telling lies" about Rajiv Gandhi's involvement in the Bofors scandal.

In this saffron city, where the BJP holds five of the seven parliamentary seats, Sonia was all fire and brimstone as she took on the Hindutva brigade. "They said Rajiv Gandhi took commission (on the Bofors deal). I, Rajiv Gandhi's widow, tell you that what Atal Behari Vajpayee said is a total lie," she declared. This was the second time she has raised the Bofors issue in her election campaign for the Congress.

To the delight and approval of the crowd which had waited nearly five hours to see her, she openly mocked her saffron rivals for going on the defensive. "They are frightened. They are frightened of a mere woman who has watched their `tamaasha' in silence for years. But I will not keep quiet any more," she vowed, drawing thunderous applause.

After shefinished her 20-minute speech, an old man said approvingly, "She did the right thing in calling her opponents' bluff".

Estimates of the size of the crowd that filled the historic Ramlila Maidan varied wildly, with Congress claims going as high as one and a half lakhs. Veteran journalists who have covered past rallies here put the number somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000.

However, what the gathering lacked in size, it made up in gusto. There was an air of expectancy and excitement which has not been seen in a Congress rally for years. Qawwalis, impromptu dances and slogans gave it the atmosphere of a mela -- a stark contrast to the lacklustre rally held by the BJP and its allies at Ambedkar Stadium earlier in the week.

Congress president Sitaram Kesri, Sonia's children, Rahul and Priyanka, and all seven nominees for Delhi were present on the stage.

Starting her speech on her now familiar emotional note, Sonia recalled that she came to Delhi on January 13, 1968, with a return ticket toItaly provided by her father. "I have been here for 30 years now. The return ticket has floated away on the river of time," she said.

After running through memories of happy and sad times with the Nehru-Gandhi family, she suddenly changed gears when she got onto politics. There was a stringent attack on former Prime Minister V P Singh without naming him. "(He) went around claiming to have the names of the (Bofors beneficiaries) in his pocket. I have been waiting for nine years for him to produce those names," she charged.

But her main target was the BJP. "I cannot bring myself to repeat the words they have used about my husband," she declared. Lambasting the party for telling "lies upon lies" on the Bofors issue, she pointed out that the Swedish Government had denied the statement attributed to its spokesperson by the BJP asking her to reveal all she knows about the scandal.

"Now these same forces are posing a danger to the country. Our society will be destroyed by them. Is this what we want?" sheasked.

She touched briefly on the Babri Masjid issue as well to criticise the BJP for using Ram's name to break mosques. "Beware of the hidden meaning in their statements," she warned. "They say Hindutva is on the backburner for now. They say Kashi and Mathura are not on their agenda for now. The catch is in the phrase `for now'. We have seen the respect they have for the rule of law and the Constitution."

She said her effort would be to ensure that the Congress has an honest and visionary leadership which can provide a stable and secular government. "We have the experience to run a government. Don't be fooled by the others," was her parting shot.

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