Criticising the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee led-government in West Bengal for its handling of the situation in Nandigram, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday said that she was with the people of the area in their sorrow.
"I am with the people of Nandigram who faced sorrow and hardship, especially with the women, children and farmers," Gandhi said amidst a thunderous applause from the crowd at the YMA ground in Baharampur.
Slamming the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Front government in the state over the law and order situation, she said that the people were concerned about it. "This should not happen and there should not be any discrimination in maintaining law and order," she said.
She said that the Congress officer-bearers in the state had complained of repeated torture and atrocities against the people, adding that in a democracy, there is no place for political violence.
"If the law and order machinery does not work properly, the whole system gets affected. This is wrong and this should not happen".
Referring to the Left's support to the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, Gandhi said that to keep communal forces out of power, they had taken the support of the secular parties, but asserted the Congress would not "sacrifice its ideologies and policies at any cost".
"The Congress has every right to fight against injustice wherever it is done," she said. Refuting the Left's repeated charges that the agenda of the common minimum programme was being violated by the UPA government, Gandhi said that every step was being taken for the benefit of the masses in accordance with the CMP.
Turning to the Left's demand for special measures for West Bengal and Kerala to mitigate hardship of the people in view of sky-rocketing prices, Gandhi said one should realise that there cannot be one policy for Bengal and another for other states.
Gandhi also questioned the track record of the Left government for the uplift of the minority population in the state.
"The people belonging to the minority community are facing hardship and the state government should not only ponder over the recommendations in the Sachar committee report, but implement them," she said.
On the difficulties faced by farmers, Gandhi said that the UPA government had waived farmers' loans worth Rs 60,000 crore. "We shall not allow the farmers to suffer. Their difficulties will be resolved. The farmers' loan waiver is a continuation of the policy of Nehru and successive Congress governments at the Centre," she said.
"Farmers are the backbone of the nation like the soldiers who protect the country's borders," Gandhi said.
She said that different schemes like NREGA and Gram Sadak Rozgar Yojna were being implemented by the UPA government to improve the quality of life of the people. NREGA schemes, she said, were now being implemented all over the country.
Gandhi said that the Congress was running a coalition government which was in its fourth year, but it was not like the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition. "The Congress never compromised with communal forces to grab power," she said.
Gandhi also called for strengthening Indo-Bangla relations. "We have been with Bangladesh during all its hardship and the recent inauguration of the Maitree Express train would further strengthen relations between the two countries," she said.
Turning to the problem of Ganga river erosion, Gandhi said that the Centre was aware of the problem in this region and that the government was trying to address it through the Farakka Barrage project.
Gandhi's visit to Baharampur was also significant in view of May's panchayat elections in the state since Murshidabad is one of the two districts where Congress controls the zilla parishad.
Although the state Congress leaders insisted that Gandhi's visit had nothing to do with the rural polls, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was present, made an impassioned plea to the people of Murshidabad and Malda to return Congress to the zilla parishads in these two districts again.
He said that in the last panchayat polls, Congress had upstaged the Left in Murshidabad and Malda Zilla Parishads and also won majority of seats in gram panchayats.