In the space of 45 minutes from Meghalaya capital Shillong to southern Assam’s Silchar, Congress president Sonia Gandhi changed from a yellow-and-red jainsem – traditional Khasi dress – to a grayish saree.
Her poll plea at both rally venues remained more or less unchanged: vote for your Prime Minister and your country, if not the Congress, and ensure a stable government at the Centre. The Northeast, she indicated, had more reason to return Manmohan Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam.
Virtually the last major rally in Shillong and Silchar LS seat before polling on April 16, the Congress president’s rally on Monday was greeted by bandhs at both venues. While an outlawed tribal militant outfit called the bandh in Meghalaya, lesser known youth organisations sought the shutdown in Silchar to protest sitting MP and Union minister Santosh Mohan Dev’s “vacuous promises”.
The south Assam bandh came a cropper, but that did not ensure much of a crowd for Gandhi in Silchar’s India Club ground. Some 3,500 people turned out in a place that normally attracts much bigger crowds. Earlier in the day, the turnout was almost similar at Polo Ground in Shillong, bandh-induced bottlenecks keeping many indoors.
“People refer to him as a weak PM, but Manmohan Singh has proved to be efficient in tackling terrorism and maintaining law and order,” she said while campaigning for Congress’ Vincent H Pala for the Shillong seat. She also came down heavily on LK Advani, reminding him of the Kandahar fiasco.
Gandhi avoided the issue of President’s Rule in Meghalaya but lashed out at regional parties, which “keep shifting loyalties” to impose “instability on you”.
At Silchar, the Congress president felt the onus was on the people of Assam to give another chance to their “own” PM. “Parliamentary elections are neither about local issues nor about voting for the Congress, they are about voting for the country. You have to think hard before you cast your vote and decide who is more capable of offering you a stable government.”