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Monday, September 7, 1998
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Sonia keeps coalition option open
From K.V. Prasad
Tribune News Service

PACHMARHI, (MP), Sept 6 — The Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi today declared coalitions as a passing phase, equated their emergence to the decline of the party and promised to make a comeback with "full force and on our own steam".

Rejecting that the era of coalitions had come to stay, the Congress President articulated the majority view in the party that emerged after three days of intense debate and discussion at the 'vichar manthan shivir' which ended today.

Yet, the Congress kept an option open, obviously with an eye on the possible fall of the BJP-led coalition at the Centre and this was evident when Mrs Sonia Gandhi stated, "in the interim, coalitions may be needed".

She said the Congress had already stated it would not shirk from its constitutional responsibility as and when the situation arose. However, in doing so, she clarified that it would be on terms that do not erode its dominance.

"We will do so (coalitions) without compromising on our basic philosophy and on our priorities as articulated by the five working groups at Pachmarhi," she said.

The tightrope walking in not outrightly rejecting the issue of alliances. The Congress leadership obviously kept in mind the need to have tie-ups with like-minded secular parties in the event of the present arrangement at the Centre collapsing.

Given the current composition, the Congress will have to reach out to the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left.

In fact, the " Pachmari declaration" was adopted after the camp steered clear from taking any line against casteist parties, even though many members spoke for it.

The closest it came in giving direction to the party was by expressing concern over the weakening of the party in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Bihar and decided to accord the highest priority to the revival and renewal of the Congress in these states.

Coupled with it, the Congress President declared that the party will work "tirelessly to recapture political and social base" in the states of U.P. and Bihar while paying special attention to West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

The Congress has, in the past two general elections faced near-total rout in these states. It has no single MP from UP, which has the maximum (85) representatives in the Lok Sabha, a handful from Bihar.

The debate was whether to join hands with the SP and the RJD and fight the BJP or to distance from the parties led by both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav, who now have with them supporters who were once with the Congress.

In another move to reclaim their traditional base, the declaration pledged to resolve the Babri issue expeditiously and work for the betterment of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes, weaker sections and minorities.

Coupled with this, it wants to remove discrepancies that have crept into the implementation of policies in respect of education, subsidies and assistance in economic and poverty alleviation programmes.

The move is obviously to change the image of the Congress, which according to some leaders had lost its pro-poor face after the economic reforms.

Though the declaration hailed the reforms undertaken by the Congress during 1991-96, it sought to inject human face into it.

Apart from adopting a declaration it also announced an eight-point programme for the party rank and file.

The Congress committed itself to the passage of Women’s Reservation Bill on the basis of broad-based consensus among all political parties and also promised substantial representation to women at all echelons of the party organisation and in the distribution of ticket for elections to the state assemblies and Parliament.

It expressed apprehension over the proposed review of constitution and said the basic structure, including secularism and parliamentary system, cannot be altered.

On foreign policy, the party decided to enhance party-to-party contact with political parties of India’s neighbours. It also decided to send a high-powered party delegations to China and South Africa.

On the CTBT, it cautioned the government from rushing in to sign the treaty and instead suggested consultations with all political parties. It also called for the restoration of national consensus on foreign policy, criticising the BJP government of having disrupted the method.

The Congress also adopted a 35-point programme of action for agriculture and a 14 -point programme of action for Panchayati Raj.

The closing session was preceded by a meeting of the Congress Working Committee which ratified the Pachmarhi declaration, which was read to the delegates by the CWC member, Mr Pranab Mukherjee.



Family norm, Congress style
Tribune News Service

PACHMARI, Sept 6 — By the turn of the century, Congress members having more than two children will become ineligible to hold any party post or selection as party candidate for any election.

The decision, which was greeted with sniggers, is part of the Pachmari declaration adopted by the Congress in an attempt to promote the small-family norm within the party.

The Congress decided to make population control as a key element of the party programme.

On the organisational front, it approved the proposal to establish a Congress election authority to ensure free and fair party elections at all levels.

While the complaints of bogus membership and stage-managed intra-party elections were sought to be attended to in this fashion, the Congress President took note of the infighting and groupism within the party.

However, she took a different view by stating, "I cannot stress the absolute essentiality of unity and discipline in the party at all levels, including among top leaders. If we are united, nothing can stop us and we will meet any threat, overcome any obstacle and win any battle."


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