The distance from Patiala House court to All Indian Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters in the heart of national capital is little more than two kilometres and on a usual day a drive may take just over five minutes. But today is a different day.
For the Congress party workers across the country, destination was set on Saturday as Congress president Sonia Gandhi, vice president Rahul Gandhi along with top party leaders Motilal Vohra, Oscar Fernandes and the family loyalists Sam Pitroda and Suman Dubey appeared before the Patiala House trial court at 3:00 PM in the National Herald case.
‘Rai Bareily ka toofaan, badlo saara hindustan’ read one banner among many outside AICC premises carried by several hundreds of party workers from Sonia Gandhi’s parliamentary constituency and family pocket borough in Uttar Pradesh. The crowd at Akbar Road, housing AICC headquarters building and 10 Janpath, Sonia’s residence, adjacent to it, kept swelling by the minute.
More slogans heard and banners could be seen as the party, which was badly bruised in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, prepared for a show of strength, besides a testing legal matter.
Security personnel of Delhi police and central paramilitary forces, already anticipating a long day, had beefed up their numbers manifold. Since late morning they could be seen containing the Congress party workers to stave off any possible law and order problem.
According to Congress party sources, Sonia Gandhi held a high noon meeting with the party’s legal battery – Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Harin Raval, Ramesh Gupta and Devdutt Kamat among others. Senior party leaders too were present in the deliberations.
Priyanka Gandhi, who along with her husband Robert Vadra, accompanied Sonia and Rahul at Patiala House court, attended a party ‘strategy’ meeting at Ghulam Nabi Azad’s residence at South Avenue shortly before the court hearing.
Another sight not to be missed was the Patiala House court. On any other Saturday, the trial court on the periphery of India Gate’s C-hexagon would be having a slow start to the morning, but not this Saturday.
Since morning, the court premises have been taken over by the security personnel, SPG guards and a huge media contingent. Gate number 3 of the court, near the Purana Quila Road intersection, got packed with journalists and their Outdoor Broadcasting (OB) vans, perhaps by the first stroke of light.
It was an extremely short inside the courtroom where only those connected with the case were allowed.
Senior party leaders AK Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, BK Hariprasad and Ajay Maken were present inside the courtroom. Priyanka too was inside and furnished bail bond for her brother. Among the legal team — former Law minister Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, former ASG Harin Raval, their counsel in the trial court Ramesh Gupta, AICC legal cell chief KC Mittal and Devdatt Kamat took forth the defense.
As the press pack jostles with the heavy security deployment and vied to reach the lawyers of the concerned parties for every small or significant information at the court, barely two kilometres from here Congress workers armed with banners and pepped with slogans awaited their leader’s address.