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Sunday, January 11, 1998 Published at 12:25 GMT



World

Sonia Gandhi steps into Indian politics
image: [ After a life of guarded privacy, Sonia Gandhi (left) joins the world of politics ]
After a life of guarded privacy, Sonia Gandhi (left) joins the world of politics

In her first-ever campaign speech, Sonia Gandhi, the widow of the late Indian Prime Minister, has made a strong attack on political parties who use religion for political gain.


[ image: The rally took place near the southern city of Madras]
The rally took place near the southern city of Madras
In Sriperumbudur, near the southern city of Madras, Mrs Gandhi said her husband had stood for the unity of India and all its people, regardless of religion or wealth.

She said she had decided to campaign because unity was under threat, not because she wanted political office herself.


BBC Correspondent Paul Danahar describes Sonia Gandhi's impact on Indian politics (1'55")
Supporters of the Congress Party, which dominated India for 50 years, have been flocking to meet Sonia Gandhi since the gates of her fortified residence in Delhi were opened on Thursday.

The party ruled the country under Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira and Rajiv Gandhi for almost four decades after independence but has been steadily losing support in recent years.


[ image: Rally at Sriperumbudur]
Rally at Sriperumbudur
The rally, the first of many, is part of the build up to her launch on the public stage.

Sriperumbudur is the town where her husband Rajiv died at the hands of a suicide bomber during an election meeting seven years ago.

Each year, India's leaders pay tribute to him at the shrine which stands where he fell, accompanied by Sonia Gandhi and her daughter Priyanka.


[ image: Sonia Ghandi and her daughter pay homage to assassinated Rajiv Gandhi]
Sonia Ghandi and her daughter pay homage to assassinated Rajiv Gandhi
The party has turned in desperation to Mrs Gandhi after a series of senior resignations and devastating results in the latest election.

In spite of pressure from Congress members she has been reluctant to accept a leading position in the party. She joined it only in May last year.

For years, she has been consulted by opinion pollsters and wielded influence behind the scenes where she is happiest.

With the election barely two months away, Congress leaders hope the party will unify around a woman with whose name its own fortunes have been largely inseparable.

BBC Correspondent Daniel Lak says Mrs Gandhi's first-ever campaign speech will be less likely remembered for what she said than that she spoke at all.

Now that her campaign is underway, pressure will inevitably grow for her to run for office.
 





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