Congress president Sonia Gandhi launched her party’s poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh with an impressive roadshow in Varanasi, prime minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, on Tuesday.
However, she fell ill after spending five hours under hot and humid conditions – forcing her to cut the roadshow short barely a kilometre ahead of the last stop. She rested at the Varanasi airport for around two hours before flying back to Delhi late in the evening.
Her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the Congress chief was already indisposed when she left for Varanasi on Tuesday morning. “She was very keen to go, but had a bit of strain… I guess,” Priyanka told mediapersons outside the Delhi airport on Tuesday night. She was there with her brother, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, to receive Gandhi upon her return.
According to party sources, the event – which was initially expected to last for around two hours – stretched for five hours, causing Gandhi to fall ill due to heat and dehydration. Gandhi later released a statement expressing regret at being deprived of the “saubhagya” (good fortune) to do a “darshan” of Kashi Vishwanathji during the auspicious month of Sawan. She promised to return very soon.
Modi had reportedly called up Sheila Dikshit, the Congress’ UP chief ministerial candidate, to enquire about Gandhi’s health while she was still at the Varanasi airport. He offered to help out by sending a doctor and a plane to take her back to Delhi.
“Soniaji came and has gone to the hospital. She is stable now. Dehydration caused her fever,” Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad later told mediapersons at the Delhi airport. She was taken to the Army Research and Referral hospital for a check-up.
Earlier in the day, 69-year-old Gandhi showed no signs of illness as she stood in an SUV amid cheering crowds – enthusiastically greeting and shaking hands with people. Her 50-car cavalcade snaked through an eight-km stretch decorated with festoons and buntings as thousands lined the streets and many peered from their homes and rooftops. Party supporters stopped the cavalcade at prominent intersections to felicitate Gandhi, who wore a gold-and-white sari with the party flag wrapped round her wrist.
In her statement, the Congress president accused the Modi government of paying special attention to the needs of “a handful of people and industrialists”. “The palace built on false promises cannot last long, people will soon call it to account and give a befitting response,” she said.
Attacking BJP leaders “who talk of a Congress-mukt Bharat”, she said that her party is not just an institution or a group of people. “It is rooted in every particle of India... One cannot imagine the idea of modern India without the Congress,” she added.
The impressive turnout at Gandhi’s roadshow comes as a shot in the arm for the Congress, which is hoping to make a big impact in the upcoming assembly elections.
Underscoring the party’s efforts to balance the caste equations in the state, Gandhi began her day by paying tributes to Dalit icon BR Ambedkar and was expected to end it by garlanding a statue of former Congress chief minister Kamlapati Tripathi, a Brahmin leader and address party workers.