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Another day of high drama

By Our Staff Reporter

Congress activists lying on the road demanding that Sonia Gandhi reverse her decision not to accept the post of Prime Minister. A scene near 10 Janpath, her official residence, in New Delhi on Wednesday. — Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

NEW DELHI, MAY 19. It was another day of high drama outside 10 Janpath, residence of the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, today. For the second day running, supporters of Ms. Gandhi were unwilling to accept anyone else as the country's Prime Minister and were prepared to go to any length to make her "change her mind."

Leading the way was nine-year-old Sadhana Bharati. Dressed in bright yellow, this `star' Congress campaigner decided to go hungry until Ms. Gandhi decided to take up the top executive post. "I am on aamaran anshan (fast unto death), I won't eat unless Soniaji agrees to become the Prime Minister. I campaigned for the Congress party in many parts of the country and asked people to vote for her. If she refuses to become the Prime Minister, I will die," said an emotionally-charged Sadhana.

With her supporters egging her on, she was the centre of attraction. "She is like Soniaji. If Soniaji is unwilling, Sadhana too will not give up easily. The country is proud of Soniaji and we are proud of Sadhana,'' said a Congress supporter holding aloft a picture of hers.

Even her father claimed he had no control over her. "I told her not to do this, but she doesn't listen to me. We are giving her plenty of water though,'' he said.

However, Sadhana was not the only one on hunger strike outside 10 Janpath. A Congress worker, Om Prakash, claimed that he had not eaten since last night. "I will sacrifice my life for Soniaji. It is another kind of freedom struggle. There will be no one else but Sonia. She has shown that she is above everyone by refusing to become the Prime Minister,'' he said.

Sometimes, the media were at the receiving end. A reporter of a private television channel was said to have been beaten up for announcing that the senior Congress leader, Manmohan Singh, was likely to be the Prime Minister. Some local Congress leaders expressed unhappiness over the media's projection of Dr. Singh. It was only after the television crew switched off their cameras that the demonstrators calmed down. The Rajya Sabha MP, Ashwani Kumar, owner of a group of publications, was manhandled for the same reason. The crowd did not even spare Mani Shankar Aiyar, when he tried to pacify them.

Groups of party supporters sat in a dharna all along the stretch of Akbar Road along the Congress headquarters in an obvious attempt to pressure Ms. Gandhi. Better prepared than yesterday, red carpets and mattresses were rolled out in the shade, strategically-placed to capture the best camera-angle.

Displaying huge banners, carrying pictures of the Nehru-Gandhi family and shouting slogans against the Bharatiya Janata Party, the protesters came in bunches. There was an obvious sense of relief when the AICC general secretary, Ambika Soni, announced at 1 p.m. that all members of the Congress working committee had submitted their resignations to the party president and that Tuesday night's resolution had been rejected by the Congress Parliamentary Party. The piece of information was received amid cheers. But the fact that this happiness was short-lived was another matter.

Workers of the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan held the stage for a long time in the afternoon. Security in the area had been beefed up with the deployment of the Border Security Force and the Rapid Action Force when the number of demonstrators swelled.

Some of them went on the rampage even at the AICC headquarters.

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