There was never a dull moment as the large crowd waited for Sonia to arrive at the venue
The Congress’s thanksgiving programme in Mandya turned out to be a massive show of strength with thousands of slogan-shouting supporters in attendance at the Sir M. Visvesvaraya Stadium.
The Congress, which won the two constituencies of Mandya and Bangalore Rural, considered the stronghold of the opposition Janata Dal (Secular), chose Mandya town for its rally as it wants to consolidate its hold over this region. Its candidates Ramya and D.K. Suresh had won with a big majority.
Ms. Gandhi’s arrival from Thiruvananthapuram was delayed by 45 minutes because of bad weather. She was forced to reach the venue by road.
Just before her arrival, there was some apprehension when a huge swarm of bees rose over the podium. The organisers could do little about it. But the insects showed mercy on the Congress and buzzed away in the nick of time.
Ms. Gandhi’s arrival by road caused traffic snarls on the busy stretch between Mysore and Mandya, causing inconvenience to thousands. Students in some villages protested against the police blocking traffic. They had a difficult time catching their buses as the Congress had hired around 2,000 buses to take supporters to the public meeting. This left bus stations in Mandya, Chamarajanagar, Mysore and Ramanagaram deserted.
Mr. Shivakumar stole the show before Ms. Gandhi arrived at the stadium. He did all that was possible to keep the audience from moving away as there was a light drizzle. Motivating the audience to shout slogans, he said: “Your slogans should reach [Chief Minsietr Narendra] Modi and [JD(S) chief] Deve Gowda. Do not lift chairs and stand up even if it rains. You are all farmers and children of farmers. You should not get disturbed by this light rain. Let it rain, our leader is coming all the way to thank you all. Stay here,” he announced, repeatedly.
The sugarcane town was decked with scores of placards and posters with Mr. Shivakumar’s photo printed prominently. Every time the name of Mr. Shivakumar and his brother D.K. Suresh were mentioned, their supporters cheered. Veteran leader and the former External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, who was seated at the back, was made to move to the front line of the dais. Asked to speak, he politely refused.
Mr. Shivakumar and Housing Minister M.H. Ambareesh touched Ms. Gandhi’s feet to seek her blessings. Ms. Gandhi seemed taken aback, but obliged them.
Despite the security arrangements, there was a black flag demonstration by an individual. He seemed to be protesting against the privatisation of the Bhadravati iron ore factory. But some said he was protesting against the ordinance to shield convicted politicians. Someone in the crowd pelted a stone which hit him on the forehead resulting in an injury.
With the stadium packed, pickpockets had a field day. One person, caught red-handed, was thrashed by volunteers.
There was also a mad scramble for ladoos and buttermilk at the stadium. With more than the estimated number of people turning up, the organisers had a tough time distributing the refreshments.