Tuesday, July 8, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Cong ready for poll: Sonia
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, July 7
Ms Sonia Gandhi, Congress President, today declared that her party was fully prepared to face elections any time as people of the country were anxiously waiting for an opportunity to throw the NDA government out of power.

Setting the tone of the three-day Vichar Manthan Shivir in her inaugural address, she launched a frontal attack on the BJP-led government for failing the people of the country in the vital areas of national security, defence, social harmony, economic growth, foreign policy and governance.

“In spite of tall claims, the failures were many and comprehensive”, she observed while enlisting some of the most glaring ones.

The time was over for the incompetent, corrupt and inefficient regime and the people were looking towards the Congress to steer the country through the present difficult situation. It was high time for the Congress to reclaim its rightful place as the country needed it more than ever before, she added. Referring to the possibility to an early Lok Sabha poll, Ms Gandhi said there was a talk of advancing the national elections, but the Congress had nothing to fear. It was fully geared up for it. She said she was convinced that the people were in a mood to decisively reject the BJP-led government.

She delivered the inaugural address first in Hindi and later in English for the benefit of the delegates. She was uncharacteristically fluent in both languages. During her speech she touched upon almost every issue ranging from the menace of terrorism to the ongoing controversy over sending troops to Iraq. However, she made no reference to the intricate issue of alliances and adjustments in the next Lok Sabha poll and also the latest developments on the Ayodhya dispute.

She said instead of combating terrorism, the Vajpayee government used it as a pretext to polarise society. The Union Home Minister had made a promise to bring out a white paper on the ISI activities, but four years had passed and the people were still waiting for it.

The nation’s defences had been jeopardised over the past three years and Rs 24,000 crore meant for modernisation of armed forces had not been spent. Further, Rs 4,200 crore collected through the Kargil surcharge had been diverted for other purposes. The reports of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner were being routinely denied to the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. Launching a scathing attack on the Hindutva forces, Ms Gandhi said the BJP and its allied organisations like the VHP and the RSS were damaging the secular fabric of society and disturb peace and harmony. Whatever these divisive forces might propagate, the Congress would defend secularism at all costs and firmly combat the misuse of religion for creating fissures in society.

Coming to the economic issues, she said no new investment was taking place in crucial areas like agriculture and industry. The Central Government had also failed to fulfil its promise to create one crore jobs every year. The public sector, which provided numerous employment opportunities, particularly to the weaker sections, was being systematically dismantled. The economic growth rate had slowed down considerably since the Congress left office in 1996.

The NDA government had abysmally neglected its basic responsibilities towards the rural India. Rural development schemes had been fragmented and become totally politicised. The Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana had been a colossal failure. Lakhs of farmers had been crushed under the burden of debt and falling prices and an unprecedented number of them had been forced to commit suicide.

The foreign policy lacked consistency, conviction and clarity. The national consensus that had sustained the foreign policy for more than five decades was being wilfully eroded. The government had been a passive spectator to the marginalisation of the United Nations and to the emergence of unilateralism reflected in doctrines like “regime change” and “pre-emptive strike”. And now, there were efforts on to send Indian troops to Iraq. The Congress had made it clear that without an explicit mandate of the United Nations, which did not exist today, Indian troops must not be sent.

Similarly, the approach to Pakistan had vacillated from one extreme to another in spite of our broad and consistent support to the Prime Minister's peace moves, including his recent initiative from Srinagar. Pakistan’s policies and actions had not changed. At home, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister said one thing but when they went abroad, they talked about “compromises” and “give and take” on Jammu and Kashmir. What were these compromises? What were we expected to give?, she added.

The government’s track record on probity, accountability and transparency had been deplorable. Corruption had crossed all limits. Besides scandals in defence, there were scams pertaining the UTI, petrol pumps, cooperative banks, disinvestment, DDA, telecom and many others.

Referring to future plans, Ms Gandhi said many new initiatives were needed to give politics a new meaning and direction. Judicial, administrative and police reforms had to be made an integral part of our political mobilisation strategy. The frontal organisations must take it upon themselves to focus on the implementation of social legislation and making people aware of their rights. The Congress at all levels must reflect generational changes that were taking place so rapidly in the country. Political opportunities could not be monopolised by just a few. The code of austerity and ethics must be strictly followed and scrupulously enforced. The scope and range of ethics committees at the AICC and PCCs must be expanded and Congress party office-bearers everywhere must disclose and declare their assets regularly.

Referring to the ideological battle ahead, she said the very idea of Indian nationhood was under a sustained attack. The identity of India should not be allowed to become narrow, parochial and filled with hate and bigotry. The concept of nationalism being propagated by the BJP and its ideological brotherhood was a complete distortion of all values of our Freedom Movement and a total negation of our Constitution. The Indian nationalism must continue to be liberal, open-minded, confident, rooted in the best of our traditions of mutual acceptance and accommodation.

To carry out the ideological battle effectively, she made an important announcement to set up a Bapu Sadbhavna and Shikhsa Trust comprising eminent men and women committed to the vision of a modern, secular and progressive India. The trust would give shape and direction to enlightenment and excellence in the education system based on values espoused by the founding fathers.

Ms Gandhi was flanked by Mr Manmohan Singh and Mr Pranab Mukherjee on the dais.

Earlier, welcoming the delegates, Mr Virbhadra Singh, Chief Minister, said it was after three decades that the Congress had chosen Shimla for its political congregation. The AICC held its plenary session here in 1971.

Ms Gandhi also unfurled the party flag at the venue.

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