Sonia hears voice and shows a mother's face on TV

New Delhi, Dec. 29: Sonia Gandhi today made a rare appearance on television to grieve over the death of the gang rape victim and, in an address of sorts to the nation, pledged action.

"Today we pledge that she will get justice; that her fight will not go in vain…. To all of you who have stood vigil, who have expressed their anger and anguish publicly, who have poured out in support, I want to assure you that your voice has been heard," the Congress president said.

Sonia had earlier expressed her concern at the brutal gang rape to aides and the government but stayed away from the media glare.

She had paid a visit to Safdarjung Hospital to express solidarity with the parents of the victim without making it a media event. No TV cameras had followed her since no one had been informed of the late evening visit.

The hospital trip took place on the day Samajwadi MP Jaya Bachchan made an emotional protest in the Rajya Sabha.

Sonia had stepped out when a group of young protesters had assembled outside her 10 Janpath bungalow. On Friday, when senior leaders gathered at the Congress headquarters to mark the party's 127th foundation day, Sonia had announced the New Year celebrations cancelled in a mark of sensitivity for the victim.

Rahul Gandhi, who too had chosen to remain in the background as the government engaged with the protests, also broke his silence today and issued a statement through his office. But it seemed bland in comparison with his mother's television speech.

"My heart goes out to the family of the young girl and millions of young Indians and their families who work, hope and pray for a better India," Rahul's statement said.

"We as a nation must reflect on the events of the days gone by. As citizens we must resolve to respect the dignity of women and follow the laws of the land. I join my mother and sister in offering deep-felt condolences to the young girl's family. My thoughts and prayers are with the family."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too issued a statement of condolence.

Sonia's expression of grief, in contrast, reached living rooms through live images.

"As a woman (and) a mother, I understand how you feel. Her (the victim's) unbounded courage and her indomitable spirit will never die and will never be forgotten," Sonia said.

"It strengthens our resolve to fight with all our might and all the powers of all our laws and our administration for the safety, protection of all women of the country and to ensure swift and fitting punishment for the perpetrators of such brutal acts."

Among Congress leaders, only chief minister Sheila Dikshit mustered the courage to visit Jantar Mantar, aware that she would meet with protests. Her gesture, however, was seen by some as a politically driven one, given that Delhi goes to the polls next year.

Most politicians, barring a few Left leaders, kept away from the protesters at Jantar Mantar and preferred to issue written statements or make TV appearances, as Sonia did.

"Her death has shaken the conscience of the nation. We must wake up and make India safe for our daughters," the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, tweeted.

Her Rajya Sabha counterpart, Arun Jaitley, said: "All our heads must hang in shame today that a young girl has fallen victim to brutal and beastly behaviour. She has been sacrificed to an environment in which women are not safe."

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati's statement demanded a special session of Parliament to frame tough laws against rape and pass the promotion quota bill.

The CPM politburo issued a statement with the demand "to put in place long-pending required measures to prevent violence against women".

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