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Shamshabad airport issue precedes Sonia visit

By Our Special Correspondent

HYDERABAD, MARCH 15. The AICC president, Sonia Gandhi, will arrive on a four-hour-long visit to Hyderabad on Wednesday to lay the foundation- stone for an international airport at Shamshabad amid a raging controversy over the Union Cabinet's decision to name it after her late husband, Rajiv Gandhi.

The Telugu Desam Party, which opposed the move in the Rajya Sabha today, has also questioned Ms. Gandhi's credentials for laying the stone. Her Cabinet status by virtue of being chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC) did not bestow her the authority to lay the stone, the TDP deputy leader, Y. Ramakrishnudu, contended.

Describing it as violative of established norms, he said it had hurt the sentiments of the Telugus.

"When the airport at Chennai can be named after a Tamilian, why can't the Hyderabad airport be after a Telugu personality? he said.

The Rs. 1,418-crore airport, promoted by the GMR group and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhard, is scheduled for completion by 2008.

While the former holds 63 per cent, the Malaysian partner has 11 per cent share, and the State and Central Governments 13 per cent each.

TDP for status quo

The TDP wants status quo that exists at the Begumpet airport maintained. A peculiar arrangement is in place at Begumpet where the international and domestic terminals are named after Rajiv Gandhi and N. T. Rama Rao respectively, although both buildings lie side by side.

The BJP wants the new airport named after the former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao.

The Chief Minister, Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, has made it clear that he will have none of it since the decision to name the Begumpet airport after Rajiv Gandhi was taken in 1992. But, the NDA Government diluted the decision.

He said the TDP lacked consistency and had, at various points of time, demanded the airport to be named after PV Narasimha Rao, NTR and even Potti Sriramulu.

Moreover, the new airport would have only one terminal and the question of having two names did not arise.

Public meeting

Ms. Gandhi's other important engagement is to address a public meeting at the Secunderabad Parade Grounds. As this is her first visit after the Congress stormed back to power after nine years, the party is calling it a "victory rally."

Boycott call

The CPI (Maoist) and the Janashakti have given a call to boycott the rally. But, Dr. Reddy and the PCC president, K. Keshava Rao, made light of it saying it was a political meeting and in a democracy people had a right to make their choice.

With hundreds of lorries threatening to throw traffic in the City out of gear, parents of exam-going SCC students are keeping their fingers crossed. Ms. Gandhi herself will undertake most of the travel by helicopter except for driving between the Begumpet airport and the parade grounds.

As the APCC has not extended a formal invitation to its ally, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) to participate in the rally, its Ministers and MLAs are likely to confine themselves to receiving Ms. Gandhi at the airport.

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