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Sonia meets Karnataka sect leader, party workers

Bangalore, April 28 - Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, in a short trip to Karnataka Saturday, met drought-hit villagers, attended a 104-year-old religious leader's birthday celebrations and addressed party workers from the state.

Gandhi spent half an hour at Nagasamudra village, 200 km from here, listening to the woes of the people hit by a severe drought.

The villagers asked her to get them a loan waiver and a permanent drinking water facility.

She then addressed a large gathering, during which members of the Madiga Dandora Dalit community waved black flags and shouted slogans to demand reservation for the group within the Scheduled Castes category. The police subsequently whisked away a woman protestor.

Gandhi then met Sri Shivakumara Swami, the head of the Siddaganaga Mutt, 80 km from here, who turned 104 years old on April 1.

She praised the sect leader's contribution towards spreading education.

Finally, she addressed over 1,000 state party leaders and workers at a complex near the mutt.

Among the leaders present at the event were Union Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge, Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, Congress general secretary Oscar Fernandes and state party in-charge Madhusudan Mistry.

The Karnataka Congress leaders said Gandhi's visit to the mutt was significant since Sri Shivakumara Swami had a large following among the Lingayat community, which accounts for 17 percent of Karnataka population and usually supports the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Lingayats in the Congress have been seeking a greater role in running the party's affairs, and saying the neglect had resulted in the community's votes going to the BJP.



-IANS


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