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Bharat Nirman is the new Congress theme
BS Reporter in New Delhi | January 15, 2008 01:53 IST
Fresh from setbacks in the recent Assembly polls and mindful of the general election next year, Party President Sonia Gandhi [Images] has asked the central government to speedily implement projects under Bharat Nirman, one of India's biggest public-private infrastructure development exercise.
She has also asked senior party managers to carry the message that it is the Congress that has initiated these works to the grassroots.
Soon after being discharged from hospital, Gandhi called a meeting of senior ministers last Friday and told them to take the message of Bharat Nirman's renewed emphasis to the masses.
The meeting was attended by Finance Minister P Chidambaram, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.
After Gandhi's brief opening remarks, her political secretary Ahmed Patel is believed to have given a lecture for almost 20 minutes on the political benefits the Congress could get through the Bharat Nirman programme.
Gandhi's urgent call has come following reports that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme has failed. However, the party and the government have decided to refute the CAG's damning report on the scheme's implementation and put the blame on states. Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh today termed the report as "totally false". The government has already come out with a detailed report on the scheme's progress.
"Where the state administration is active, the scheme is successful, but there are cases where chief ministers are not serious. This is what is happening in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. State governments think the credit will go to the UPA, so they are inactive," Singh said.
In Congress-ruled states like Assam, Gandhi has asked the state party units to launch awareness programmes and agitate against its own government, if need be.
"Our experience shows this will reap goodwill for the party. When the central government hiked fuel prices a few years ago, the Congress president publicly demanded a cut. Eventually, when there was a cut, the party could claim credit," said a senior party manager.
Emphasis on Bharat Nirman will also soften the Left parties. After the Congress' Gujarat debacle, the Left, particularly the CPI(M), has been consistently demanding "visible pro-people measures" from the government.
Bharat Nirman projects have strong support from the Left and this will help Gandhi stave off criticism at a time the party is reeling under the political pressure of the Gujarat defeat.
Above all, the move by Gandhi suggests that the party's anti-communal platform has run its course. The party is instead aggressively pushing the development theme as this is what appears to have worked in the BJP's favour in the recent Assembly elections.
Meanwhile, the outspoken minister and a key strategist of the Congress, Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh, is back in the party's "Group to look into future challenges," dubbed as Rahul Gandhi's [Images] kitchen cabinet inside the party.
After a gap of almost two months, Ramesh attended a meeting of the group at the party headquarters. The group would soon submit a report on strengthening the party to Gandhi.