First came the unexpected Bofors gauntlet. Then, the allusion to the true spirit of Hinduism, as espoused by Adi Shankaracharya and distinct from the BJP's version—to shore up the Italy-born bahu's Indian credentials. Vouching for her late husband's secular credo, and by extension the Congress party's, she joined issue with the Narasimha Rao regime's weak-kneed stance on the mandir issue which made the demolition possible.
All this posturing only confirmed a latent impression—her campaign tone bears a striking resemblance to Arjun Singh's diatribes against the BJP and Rao. And why not? Party sources say Arjun provides the key inputs to Sonia's political speeches.
There is a more professional edge to the marketing of Sonia Gandhi. A crucial figure here is Arun Nanda of Rediffusion fame, who was first hired by Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 and in two successive elections for the party's ad-campaign. Sonia is also collecting material from the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, mainly its secretary Pulak Chatterjee, on issues related to communal harmony and poverty alleviation—issues that will dominate her speeches as she moves to the north and east. Sonia herself will weave in as many "touching" anecdotes about her husband or mother-in-law's association with that part of the country. Romi Chopra, an old Rajiv hand, is chipping in as well.
After three janata darbars at 10 Janpath, Sonia's office has stepped up its interaction with the party headquarters. "The AICC would be happy to depute any office-bearers if such a demand is made from 10 Janpath," says a party general secretary. With Arjun likely to be busy with his own campaign in Hoshangabad, 10 Janpath is expected to turn to the AICC for more personnel.