Debating India

MUMBAI

Sonia, Pawar begin campaign

Sunday 24 December 2006

Special Correspondent

Neither party has confirmed whether they will fight election together

Pawar hold talks with of representatives of minorities Centre aware of concerns of Mumbai people: Sonia

MUMBAI: With Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar simultaneously, but separately, launching the campaign for the coming municipal elections in Mumbai on Saturday, the city came to a virtual halt.

Unprecedented security arrangements put in place for the visit of President A.P.J. Kalam, as well as for Ms. Gandhi, led to massive traffic snarls in different parts.

While Mr. Kalam, who arrived late due to fog in Delhi, addressed the alumni of various Indian Institutes of Technology, Ms. Gandhi spoke at a party rally at Shivaji Park, attended by over one lakh Congress workers. Mr. Pawar presided over a meeting of representatives of minorities at the Shanmukhananda Hall in northeast Mumbai.

At stake, for both the Congress and the NCP, is the February 1, 2007 election to the Mumbai Municipal Corporation that has been dominated by the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine for the last two decades.

With division in the Shiv Sena, both the Congress and the NCP see the possibility of regaining control of the wealthiest municipality in the country. Neither party has confirmed whether they will fight the election together or separately.

Mr. Pawar said, "people ask me why certain Congress leaders are not saying good things about me. But I am aware that if we [NCP and the Congress] have to run a Government together we have to ignore such things because they are petty issues."

Ms. Gandhi, who arrived two hours late for the rally also made no direct reference to the alliance. She spoke of people who would like to encourage divisiveness in society. This should be resisted, she said.

She reiterated that the United Progressive Alliance Government was aware of the concerns of Mumbai’s citizens, especially on infrastructure such as drainage and water supply, as well as housing for the poor.

She said a new airport at Navi Mumbai would be built, and promised the city people that the Centre had Mumbai’s needs in mind.

Condemns killings

In her brief 10-minute speech, Ms. Gandhi also condemned the recent killing of four members of a Dalit family in Khairlanji, Bhandara district. The culprits would be punished, she said.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Union Minority Affairs Minister A.R. Antulay, Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Congress MPs from Mumbai and other senior Congress functionaries shared the platform with Ms. Gandhi.

See online : The Hindu

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