In Karnataka, Sonia Gandhi to address first election rally in 2 years
United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi will address her first election rally in nearly two years on May 8 at Bijapur in Karnataka, where her party is trying to return to power in a close contest with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to speak at a large rally in the same district on the same day.
Sonia, 71, had skipped campaigning in all state elections after she was forced to call off a road show in Varanasi midway due to ill health on August 2, 2016. The event was to launch the party’s poll campaign in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections.
She stayed away from canvassing in Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, Manipur (February-March 2017); Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh in (December 2017); and Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland (February 2018).
Congress secretary in-charge of Karnataka Manickam Tagore, who is overseeing the arrangements at Bijapur, said Sonia’s rally will “motivate” cadre and send a strong message to voters.
“The fact that she will address her first election meeting in many years shows how significant Karnataka is for the party,” he said. Analysts said it is also perhaps an indication of the closeness of the contest. Interestingly, the state’s water resources minister M.B. Patil, one of the champions of the movement for recognition of Lingayatism as a separate religion, is the sitting MLA from Babaleshwar, 22km from the city of Bijapur, and part of the same district.
While Sonia will campaign in north Karnataka, Congress president Rahul Gandhi will move to south Karnataka and the Bengaluru area in his ninth campaign run in the southern state from May 7 to 10. He has almost covered all the zones of the state in his eight phases of campaigning over the past three months.
Sonia Gandhi’s absence in election campaigns over the past 20 months was the first such after she joined active politics in 1998. Back then, she started campaigning for the Congress even before taking over the reins of the party from Sitaram Kesri on March 14, 1998. On January 11, 1998, she kicked off her first election tour by addressing a public meeting at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu where her husband and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991.
In between, Sonia skipped canvassing in Manipur in 2012 but only on the advice of party leaders following threats from militant outfits.