Monday, March 19, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Sonia’s battle cry against NDA govt
To unveil plan of action today
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, March 18
In a calculated attempt to breathe life into the Congress which has remained adrift, party President Sonia Gandhi declared here today that she would unveil a plan of action in New Delhi tomorrow to liberate the country from the shackles of the corrupt, shameful and communal BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government.

In a virtual war cry to send the Atal Behari Vajpayee government packing, Mrs Gandhi wanted the message of the 81st plenary session in Bangalore to reverberate in the states, districts and villages that the NDA with the BJP in the vanguard had betrayed the nation.

In this context she disclosed that she had held discussions with all PCC chiefs and CLP leaders last night focussing on the strategy to be adopted to expose the corrupt and venal BJP and its allies. Revealing a new and highly combative insight to her personality, Mrs Gandhi has taken to the offensive for her own survival as the numero uno of the Congress besides trying to galvanise the listless rank and file of the party.

In a raised voice she said for a fistful of riches, the men and women who ruled in the name of high principle had sold the honour of the seats they occupied. There could be no forgiveness. There could be no mercy for the BJP-led coalition which had lost the moral right to govern. She emphasised let the message go from Bangalore that we will fight every battle, wage every war, make every sacrifice to ensure that the country is liberated from the shackles of this corrupt, shameful and communal government.

The Congress chief’s determination to take the battle to the rival camp did gladden the hearts of the assemblage. Even though in an oblique manner, Mrs Gandhi has unmistakably thrown the gauntlet for creating a situation which might force yet another snap general election. This was evident when she observed that elections were the very lifeline of a political party. They were the very lifeline of any democracy. “It is, therefore, but natural that we gear ourselves for elections whether they be for panchayats, nagarpalikas, vidhan sabhas or the Lok Sabha”. With Assembly elections due in five states next month, Mrs Gandhi called for renewal and imparting dynamism in the Congress. She said the theme of the Bangalore plenary was “nayi shatabdi, nayi samarpan (new resolve and declaration for a new century) and had no doubt that the Congress would meet the challenges with a reinvigorated sense of commitment and determination. Time and again she cautioned that there was no need for complacency and cynicism.

In a lengthy 67 minute presidential address interspersed in Hindi and English, Mrs Gandhi spoke about the Vajpayee government’s botched up ceasefire initiative in Jammu and Kashmir, the machinations of the Sangh Parivar, the secrecy surrounding the country’s nuclear policy, destroying the edifice of the public sector and why the Congress should be the first choice of the people.

Regretting that killings of the innocent had not stopped in Jammu and Kashmir despite three extensions of the ceasefire initiative, she stressed that different elements of the government were at odds with each other.

Even though the ceasefire initiative was not an end in itself, she criticised the government for lacking a policy on the state. Some elements of the Sangh Parivar had floated the idea of trifurcating the state. “Let me categorically say with all the firmness at my command that the Congress will never accept the partition of J and K”.

Mrs Gandhi expressed concern over attempts being relentlessly being made by the RSS-BJP combine to saffronise the country’s public institutions aimed at undermining the secular education system.

In this context she emphasised that even on Ayodhya the BJP had not genuinely distanced itself from the publicly declared agenda of the RSS-VHP and the so -called ‘dharma sansad’ combine. “These very people are threatening to take law into their own hands while the BJP leadership is looking the other way.

The Prime Minister’s own statements have given rise to serious apprehensions about his real beliefs and intentions”, she observed.

On foreign policy, she said that the NDA government had abandoned non-alignment, a major pillor of Indian foreign policy and diplomacy. “India is a nuclear weapons state but all of us are in the dark about the government’s nuclear doctrine. She maintained that India must assume a leadership role in all international efforts to eliminate weapons of mass destruction”.

Mrs Gandhi took exception to the dangerous attempts being made by the ruling coalition to tinker with the Constitution. She said the Constitution was the most valuable legacy and a charter for a quiet and peaceful revolution.

She said the Congress should be the first choice of the people because it mirrored India in its diversity. It represented like no other party the country’s plurality. “We are the only party whose very core is secular and uses our diversity to keep us united”. She drew attention to the bane of the Congress fractiousness and infighting and drew pointed attention to the fact that unity was the need of the hour.

During her extended address, she underlined the need for giving the party organisation a new sense of vitality. In this context she said there was a need to rebuild the Congress in UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. She said the people of Kerala and Assam were tired of five years of the CPM and AGP misrule, respectively, and ready to give her party a fresh mandate.

In West Bengal, she said the Congress had taken a principled position which would hold the party in good stead. She also told her party’s plenary that she proposed holding Pachmarhi II within the next six months to discuss among other things how parties were financed. “I believe that we in the Congress should take the lead to put in place a more transparent and honest system of financing political activities”, she said.


What if the govt goes?
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

Bangalore, March 18
Even though Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s no-holds barred attack against the Atal Behari Vajpayee government following the ‘Defencegate’ expose by a dotcom company found a resounding echo at the AICC plenary session, discriminating partymen from states where Assembly elections are due next month express strong reservations about seeing the exit of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government in the immediate future.

What is significant is that after an inexplicable hiatus in gearing up the party organisation, there is at least a realisation that we need to get our act together and strike a chord in the heart of the people at large, these Congressmen who did not want to be identified aver.

They do not think that the corrupt and communal Vajpayee government can be pulled down in a hurry as the crucial question is what next? The Congress is woefully low on numbers and not all like-minded parties are just going to fall in line and play ball because the party with a hoary tradition of more than 100 years wants to enter into a partnership. It is widely acknowledged by a section of AICC members and delegates who attended the plenary session here in the backdrop of the NDA government being enmeshed in alleged murky defence deals that a viable alternative is sadly lacking which cannot be put together in a jiffy. However, what the assemblage found encouraging was that Mrs Gandhi has taken it upon herself to lead from the front.

Expressing reservations about the Congress being anywhere in the running for occupying the seat of power on the Raisina Hill in New Delhi in the medium to long term, these Congressmen feared that Mrs Gandhi’s effort to pull the Congress out of the morass that it might throw up an entirely a new set of psychophants.

A pre-requisite for this is to dramatically turn around the fortunes of the Congress in UP and Bihar which account for 129 out of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha. The party is in a shambles in both these states. It will be foolhardy to even aspire for power at the Centre if we are a zero in UP and Bihar, assert Congressmen from the Hindi heartland.

They are quick to point out that Mrs Gandhi has alluded to this critical issue for the first time since she assumed the stewardship of the party. What these Congress leaders find heartening is the party leaderships new found pragamatism compared to the ostrich-like approach all along.

To that extent the dramatic shift from 1998’s Pachmarhi resolution and willingness to enter into coalition arrangements provides a welcome change. This assumes importance as it will be naive on anybody’s part to assume that the Congress can secure a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha. The Congress high command wants to activate the party’s rank and file by getting involved in the proposed nationwide “Vajpayee sarkar hatao” stir by capitalising on the loss of credibility suffered by the Prime Minister.

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