BENGALURU:  After a gap of nearly two years, Sonia Gandhi appeared in front of thousands at a town in Karnataka today to seek votes for the Congress. The 71-year-old had to leave a roadshow in Varanasi ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2016 after she was taken ill. She had not turned out for canvassing since.

"I know you will not let the Narendra Modi government succeed in the May 12 polls. You will make the Congress win by a majority," she told the crowd at Vijaypura, where PM Modi had addressed a rally barely three hours earlier.  

The 71-year-old UPA chairperson has not been well for some time. But her attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sharp.

"PM Modi is very good at giving lectures, but lectures cannot fill the stomachs of people... you want dal chawal for that... lectures don't heal the sick. You need health centres for that," she said.

Highlighting the welfare measures of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's government, considered one of the strongest points by the Congress, she said: "You must have heard that Siddaramaiah's government has made efforts to provide subsidies on food because we think even the poorest have the right to proper food and health."

"Modi-ji is besotted with Congress-free India. Leave Congress-free India, he cannot even tolerate anyone in front of him," Mrs Gandhi added. Rahul Gandhi earlier tried to make the point, saying he does not wish for a BJP-free India. 

Mrs Gandhi was roped into the campaign by her son Rahul Gandhi, her deputy for five years, to whom she handed charge of the party in December. Sources in the Congress said the party wanted to evoke its historical connect with Karnataka. It Back in 1978, Chikmagalur had delivered a resounding victory to Indira Gandhi just after the emergency. Sonia Gandhi won a decisive battle against the BJP's Sushma Swaraj from Bellary, in 1999.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is seeking a second term in face of a tough challenge by the BJP.

This morning, the party's state unit welcomed Mrs Gandhi with a jeer that raised her Italian origin again. 

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