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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK

World: South Asia

Congress 'sore over Jayalalitha insult'

Sonia waves to the crowd - with son Rahul beside her

With the start of the election campaign just days away, the former Indian film star Ms Jayalalitha, who heads the AIADMK party in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, is already living up to her reputation for rocking the political boat.

Indian Elections 99
Full results
The AIADMK, which previously supported the BJP-led government, has formed a new alliance with Sonia Gandhi's Congress party.

But the Congress campaign got off to a rocky start when Jayalalitha failed to turn up for a joint election meeting addressed by Sonia Gandhi in Tamil Nadu on Sunday.

According to the Indian news agency PTI, Mrs Gandhi waited for about 45 minutes in Villupuram, then went ahead with her speech after it was announced at the meeting that Jayalalitha was "stuck in a sea of humanity in Chennai, where she was campaigning for the Congress candidate Dandayuthapani" .

The Times of India reported that "many Congress cadres were sore over the insult that Mrs Gandhi was subjected to" .

Jayalalitha apparently wanted to prove that she was more important than Mrs Gandhi in Tamil Nadu, the paper said.

Vajpayee hits out

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee launched a bitter attack on Jayalalitha at an election rally on Saturday, PTI reported.

[ image: Vajpayee and Jayalalitha in happier times]
Vajpayee and Jayalalitha in happier times
"Dealing with Jayalalitha was the most painful period in my political life," he was quoted as saying.

The coalition government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was brought down after Jayalalitha withdrew her support earlier this year.

Sushma Swaraj 'instant success'

The BJP has fielded a strong candidate in Bellary, in the southern state of Karnataka, to run against Sonia Gandhi, The Statesman reports.

[ image: BJP's Sushma Swaraj: 'Instant success' in Karnataka]
BJP's Sushma Swaraj: 'Instant success' in Karnataka
Sushma Swaraj wowed a public meeting by addressing her audience in near-fluent Kannada.

Her ability to speak the local language "turned her into an instant success," the paper said.

"If this was her way of emphasising Mrs Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin ... she could not have done better," it added.

According to The Hindustan Times, Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin is bound to attract attention in this campaign.

The Congress successes in the Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh elections last winter showed that the issue was not a disadvantage, but "this will be the first time that the matter will be tested in a direct contest," an editorial in the paper said on Monday.

However, the BJP could find it " counter-productive" to exploit the issue, it added.

Sonia hits back

Italian-born Sonia Gandhi has hit back at her critics, accusing the BJP of mudslinging on the issue of her foreign origin, and vowing: "I shall live for India, I shall die for India" .

At the election meeting in Villupuram, she also accused the Vajpayee government of "ignoring repeated warnings" from intelligence sources before the Pakistani-backed incursion in Kashmir, PTI reported.

Amid all the rough-and-tumble of election politics, Mr Vajpayee took time out to release a cassette and compact disc of his poetry, sung by the famous singers Jagjit Singh, Alka Yagnik and Shankar Mahadevan, PTI reported.

Mr Vajpayee said he had written the poetry "either travelling by rail or in jail" .

He quipped that he was currently suffering from writer's block because neither rail travel nor jail was an option now.

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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