New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi on his 142nd birth anniversary. It was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson's first public appearance after surgery abroad.

The leaders, including Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) veteran L.K. Advani, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Union Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, paid floral tributes at the memorial on the banks of the Yamuna River.

A minute's silence was observed at the black stone memorial by all the leaders.

Crowds, including a number of kids from slums and shelter homes, thronged the Gandhi memorial and some of them sang devotional songs and showered flowers at the memorial.

'I've come here for the first time and I was very excited to perform on Gandhiji's birthday before the leaders of our nations. I will cherish this opportunity forever,' said Anoop, a 13-year-old from Salaam Balak Trust, a shelter in north Delhi.

MPs, both from the ruling and opposition parties, paid tribute at a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in the parliament complex.

The birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi is celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti across the country. It is also marked as the International Day of Non-Violence.

Gandhi, born this day in 1869 at Porbandar in Gujarat, played a key role in India's independence struggle. He was assassinated Jan 30, 1948.

Sonia takes command; keeps tabs on 2G cases


She is still recuperating from her surgery two months ago, but Congress president Sonia Gandhi has plunged herself into tackling the various crises, including infighting, facing a floundering government and trying to revitalise the party for the electoral challenges ahead. She has also asked her close aides to keep her abreast of all the court developments relating to the 2G spectrum and other scandals.

“The few weeks after the Dussehra holidays will be crucial as the Supreme Court and other courts hear cases against Home Minister P Chidambaram and other United Progressive Alliance (UPA) leaders. Soniaji appears to have readied alternate plans in case of adverse verdicts triggering a political crisis,” a senior leader said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The leadership is well cautioned after the recent political upheavals caused by the court verdicts and probes by investigative agencies; like the resignations of ministers A. Raja and Dayanidhi Maran or the arrest of Suresh Kalmadi (Commonwealth Games organiser), Amar Singh (former Samajwadi Party MP) and others,” he added.

According to another Congress leader who had a meeting with Gandhi last week, there is a new determination in Gandhi.

“She is still composed and calm but appears to be more determined and decisive after the illness,” he said. “It was reflected in her firm moves to facilitate a patch-up between (Pranab) Mukherjee and Chidambaram too.”

A note related to the 2G spectrum allotment in 2008, prepared by the Finance Ministry headed by Pranab Mukherjee against then Finance Minister Chidambaram surfaced recently, causing a political storm amidst reports that there was infighting between the two ministers.

Gandhi's partial resumption of party work comes at a time when the opposition has sharpened its criticism of the government. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh alleged that 'forces were at work to destabilise the polity', the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) countered, saying the government will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

“This government will not last long and, being the principal opposition party, it is our responsibility be ready for this challenge. We must learn from Congress mistakes ..... and also be prepared for an alternate government,” BJP leader Arun Jaitley told reporters after the party's two-day national meet here.

As the opposition sharpens its knives against Chidambaram, Gandhi has finalised plans to tackle any political eventuality, party sources said.

Gandhi has also begun to oversee party affairs. She summoned Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who is facing a host of adverse issues - including police firing on a community gathering and the scandal involving the disappearance of a woman linked with a minister.

Congress leader Mohan Prakash said it is not the style of Gandhi either to advertise her illness or even fitness.

“Thank god, at least some of the rumours about her, spread by political opponents, have been dispelled now,”' he said.

The Congress president, who returned Sep 8 from the US after her surgery, made several protocol visits last week, including meetings with President Pratibha Patil and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.

In her first party event, she presided over a meeting of the Congress Election Committee which finalised some candidates for the Uttar Pradesh polls due next year. In her second meeting - the Congress core group meeting Friday - she initiated discussions on the vexed Telangana issue.

“She appears to be in command, though the situation is not favourable for the party or the government. The government may face issues from the courts, investigative and auditing agencies like the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) and the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) and parliamentary panels like the JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee) and the PAC (Public Accounts Committee),” political analyst K Sreekumar said.

“The only political relief for Gandhi is that most of the coming assembly polls would be in states ruled by opposition parties. The Congress has not much to lose and only to gain,” he added.

(Agencies)