Friday, April 12, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Congress conclave of 14 CMs to focus on good governance
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, April 11
The contrast is hard to miss. While Ms Sonia Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition, will preside over a conclave of 14 Congress Chief Ministers in this insurgency-hit region to discuss better governance, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will be making an effort to revive the ruling BJP, which now has only three Chief Ministers, in Goa, a state due for elections in a few months.

The parallel timing of the important meetings of the BJP and the Congress seems to have pitched the confidence of a resurgent Congress against the worries of a beleaguered BJP. Winning every election now is crucial to the BJP’s image and survival even as the Congress is trying to counter the anti-incumbency factor in the states ruled by it that are due for elections next year and for the Lok Sabha poll in 2004.

The Congress agenda for the Chief Ministers’ conference here, the third in the past year-and-a-half, has a clear focus on development. No political discussions have been scheduled, though it is unlikely that the party Chief Ministers will not touch upon Gujarat or the LTTE’s latest stance during informal discussions.

The choice of Guwahati as the venue for the meeting is, in certain ways, a reciprocation by the Congress of the trust that the people of the North-East have reposed in the party. Four of the seven northeastern states have Congress Chief Ministers. Some party Chief Ministers of the states here have records of longevity in office comparable to that of Mr Jyoti Basu.

It is only the fourth time in the history of the Congress that an important meeting is taking place in Guwahati. The last party session held here was in 1976 when Devkanta Baruah was the Congress President.

Assam Congress leaders emphasise that the holding of a big political meeting in the insurgency-hit North-East will send a positive message both in the region and outside. “It will make the people feel that normalcy is returning,” says Mr Paban Kumar Ghatowar, Assam PCC chief.

The meeting of the Congress Chief Ministers is taking place in a corporate style, with the CMs evaluating their performance in giving a responsive, responsible and transparent government through presentations, monitored by panels, over two days at a hotel in the picturesque setting of the Brahmaputra.

The meeting will begin with the address of the Congress President tomorrow. The Chief Ministers will each give a presentation to a panel on four broad themes, namely rural development and decentralisation, education and health, weaker sections and poverty alleviation and good governance. Besides the Congress President and 14 Chief Ministers, 16 other leaders, including general secretaries and those associated with the policy implementation cell at the AICC, will attend the meeting.

One of the ideas behind the meeting says Congress leader Ambika Soni, is not just to win elections on an anti-incumbency wave but also on the basis of performance. “The focus is on the implementation of the manifesto,” she says.

Senior Congress leaders point out that the Chief Ministers meeting is more than a party-government interaction. “It shows that the Chief Ministers are under scrutiny. The issue is not of paucity of funds but how to deliver what has been promised,” says a party leader.

Being held at the initiative of Ms Sonia Gandhi, the meeting provides Congress leaders an opportunity to interact and replicate innovative schemes. For the Congress, which is facing its longest spell as an Opposition party at the Centre, the meeting also provides a forum to finetune its political strategies.

The panels for the CMs’ meeting will have leaders like Mr Pranab Mukherjee, Mr Kamal Nath, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, Mr Shivraj Patil, Mr Motilal Vora, Mr Salman Khurshid, Mr M.S. Solanki, Mr Mahavir Prasad, Mr Ramesh Cheninthala, Ms Mohsina Kidwai and Mr Jairam Ramesh. The panel leaders, after hearing the Chief Ministers, will present their conclusions.

Evidently happy about the meeting of their Chief Ministers in the mid-term recess of Parliament coinciding with the Goa National Executive meeting of the BJP, Congress leaders, however, say that the conclave was planned many months back and was not timed to coincide with the BJP meeting. “We had planned it long back,” says Mr Kamal Nath, a Congress general secretary.Back

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