United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi will on Thursday undertake a whirlwind tour of Andhra Pradesh, covering three districts in seven hours.
She will visit Chittoor, Kadapa and Anantapur districts, all in the Rayalseema region. She will address two public meetings and the ruling Congress party is going all out to make them a huge success in view of the changing political situation in the state and the ensuing elections.
The Congress president, who will arrive by a special aircraft at Tirupati at 10.45 am, will address a public meeting of women Self-Help Groups (SHGs) promoted under Indira Kranti Patham, a scheme of the state government. About 200,000 members of the SHGs from different parts of the state would be mobilised for the public meeting to be held at Renigunta, about 10 km from the temple town of Tirupati.
The choice of Tirupati is significant as it was here that Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi launched his political party Praja Rajyam at a mammoth public meeting Aug 26.
State Congress president D. Srinivas, however, denied that it was being held as a counter to Chiranjeevi's meeting and claimed that the venue was decided two months ago.
Andhra Pradesh accounts for one-third of SHGs in the country. They have done commendable job in poverty reduction in rural areas. There are about 8.8 million women members of the SHGs, which get soft loans from the state government to take up small businesses.
The meeting at Renigunta will be an "all women" show and men, including Congress party workers, will be barred. Sonia Gandhi will interact with beneficiaries of the scheme and would also go round the stalls being put up to showcase the various items produced by the SHGs.
The Congress president would disburse bank loans, subsidy amounts, insurance premiums and scholarships to the tune of Rs 2 billion among SHGs.
Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy's government is making all efforts to make the programme a success. It has pressed into service nearly 3,000 buses of state-owned Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) to ferry women from Chittor, Kadapa, Nellore and adjoining districts. The state government is reportedly spending Rs 250 million to organise the meeting.
After the programme at Renigunta, Gandhi will fly to Idupulapaya in Kadapa district, the home district of YSR, as the chief minister is popularly known. She will inaugurate the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) established under the aegis of the Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies (RGUKT).
She will then go to Anantapur and wind up her tour with a public meeting. The Congress leaders expect 400,000 people to attend the meeting.
This tour by Sonia Gandhi is seen as part of the Congress party's preparations for assembly and Lok Sabha elections, likely to be held in March-April next year. "She may not be able to spare much time at the time of elections and hence the tour has been planned in such a way that she covers maximum number of districts possible," said Srinivas.