Congress president Sonia Gandhi, four months after undergoing surgery for an undisclosed – but much speculated on – illness in the United States, danced with abandon with tribal women from different regions of the country for well over 10 minutes at 24 Akbar Road, the party's headquarters here, sending photographers and TV crews into a frenzy – and her SPG minders into a spin of anxiety.

Earlier, on stage, at a meeting of the women's wing of the Congress on Friday, she urged the women who had gathered not just to educate people about the many central social sector schemes in the tribal areas, but to agitate if they were not functioning properly.

“Wherever these schemes are not being implemented,” she said, “launch an agitation.” The only way to tackle the spread of left-wing extremism, much of which is in the tribal-dominated areas of the country, she said, was through focussing on development. “Through better implementation of rural development schemes, we can defeat these (LWE) forces,” she told them.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government would soon enact a Mining Bill, she said, that would ensure not only the proper utilisation of the country's mineral resources, but also bring concrete benefits to the tribal people as well as prioritise the creation of jobs for the youth among them.

If those were the political messages she sent out, minutes later when she descended from the stage to mingle and dance with the Adivasi women, Ms. Gandhi sent out another unambiguous signal: she was in the pink of health, and in command.

The attractive posters that dotted the Congress office premises, too, included one of Ms. Gandhi dancing with tribal women on an earlier occasion, recalling similar photographs of her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, whose affection for the tribal communities, Ms. Gandhi recalled in her speech: “Many schemes for tribal communities were conceived during the time of Indira Gandhi,” she said, “and I know that even today, her photograph adorns many Adivasi homes.”

Indeed, the new president of the Mahila Congress, Anita Verma, managed to place a much derided section of the party on centre stage by organising a national convention on the theme of empowerment of tribal women, who came from across the country, all dressed in their traditional costumes: not only did Ms. Gandhi deliver a speech at the day-long function, Ms. Verma succeeded in pulling in several central ministers – including Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo and MoS for Finance Namo Narain Meena — thus raising the profile of the occasion.

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