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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 May, 2004, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Gandhi vigil in vain

By Ayanjit Sen
BBC correspondent in Delhi

Supporters outside Sonia Gandhi's house in Delhi
The supporters included the Congress women's and youth wings
Hundreds of Congress party supporters had descended on Sonia Gandhi's Delhi home to urge her to change her mind and become India's prime minister.

It became clear on Wednesday their vigil would be in vain.

"We cannot think of anybody else but Sonia Gandhi as PM," said Ram Naresh, who had been camping out near Mrs Gandhi's home since Tuesday afternoon.

"The entire election was fought and won in her name," he said.

He was not alone. A Congress party MP was manhandled by his own supporters for suggesting on television that Manmohan Singh was set to become India's next PM.

Alongside Mr Naresh - who is from Amethi, where Mrs Gandhi's son, Rahul, was elected - was a spread of Congress supporters, including members of its women's and youth wings.

They were shouting the slogans, "Our prime minister should be Sonia Gandhi" and "Sonia Gandhi come back".

There were also some tourists, taking in the drama of Indian democracy.

Vendors' bonanza

Several senior Congress leaders, including former chief ministers, passed through, making a beeline for Mrs Gandhi to try to persuade her to change her mind.

Prakash Sharma
Those people from the BJP who questioned Sonia's citizenship will have to pay for their comments
Prakash Sharma,
Congress supporter

"We have done what we can to convince her," Ashok Gehlot, former chief minister of the western state of Rajasthan, told the BBC.

There was tight security around the home and riot police were deployed.

Party supporters were searched by police before entering the road leading up to the residence.

"It has been a hectic day for us," said a policeman posted at the home. "The Congress party supporters need not make such a big issue out of Mrs Gandhi's decision," he said.

One Congress supporter, Prakash Sharma, who was hurt in a minor scuffle while shouting slogans, said Manmohan Singh was no match for Mrs Gandhi.

"Those people from the Bharatiya Janata Party who questioned Sonia's citizenship will have to pay for their comments," he said.

"We can give our lives for Sonia Gandhi."

Some of the supporters tired after shouting slogans and holding banners and headed to the shade of the trees to cool down.

The real profit-makers were vendors selling snacks.

"I have sold more than I sell in two or three days," said one.

Some observers, however, say the entire show was stage-managed by senior Congress leaders who knew there was no chance of Sonia Gandhi becoming prime minister.

India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

Cabinet members Old faces return
Gandhi family loyalists back in from the cold, but no fresh blood in cabinet.




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