Sonia articulates hard times but ignores inflation
Sheela Bhatt offers her take on Congress President Sonia Gandhi's speech that kicked off the the party's Chintan Shivir.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi's speech at the party's Chintan Shivir in Jaipur tried hard to walk with the times. She tried to incorporate the subjects of street protests, the anguish of the youth, the changing ways of the modern world as, "it is aided by television, social media, mobile phones and the internet."
But she didn't mention the issue of inflation and price rise. Surprising since the increase in diesel prices was the hot topic of discussion among partymen and could have a bearing on the party's fortunes. However, senior Congress leaders said that it is expected that she will take up the remaining issues during her closing speech.
But she tried to rouse partymen which her take on other issues.
"We are here on serious business which will determine our future. When we are done, we must go forward with a clear and unified sense of purpose. We must go from here recharged and reinvigorated. Let us go down to work straightaway," with these words she kick-started the Chintan Shivir. In her sober address she tried to give the impression that her party is well-aware of 'a churning' within people. She advised party-men that they "must understand and continue to respond to it."
Through her speech, she tried to bring the 'gender issue' onto the centre-stage of Indian politics.
Certainly, the gang-rape in New Delhi, the frequent protests on the streets against corruption and other issues and the recent beheading of Indian solder by Pakistani troops had its strong influence on Sonia's speech. She acknowledged that, "Our citizens are rightly fed up with the levels of corruption that they see in public life at high levels, but equally with the corruption they have to deal with in their daily lives."
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Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi
'Gender issues are fundamental, we must change mindsets'
A significant part of her short speech was to acknowledge the various protest movements against her government and she voiced her anguish over the discrimination against the girl child.
She said, "We see various protest movements across the country relating to land, forest, water and livelihood, tribal and gender issues."
She said that, "Gender issues are fundamental." The entire party must understand them and bring them to the heart of our political activity and change mindsets, she said.
Talking of "the new changing India, an India increasingly peopled by a younger, more inspirational, more impatient, more demanding and better educated generation" she said that this is a natural and welcome outcome of rapid economic and social change that has been brought about by the success of programmes of her government "to educate, to empower the oppressed and disadvantaged."
Her speech which was more a part of the ritual on such an occasion but it did spell out her thinking on the discontent in society and churning amongst Indian youth.
She said that such shibirs, held previously in Pachmarhi and Shimla, will help the party to, "review and renew, to reinterpret and reaffirm."
Both previous shibirs were held when Congress wasn't in power. She reminded Congressmen that this shibir is taking place, "at a time when we have been in government at the Centre for almost nine years. It is also talking place when we are not governing in a number of states and when we face serious challenges in states long considered our bastions."
She spoke of the unique problem of the Congress where in spite of being in power in New Delhi, it is getting weaker and weaker in most of the important states.
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'Be free and frank in what you say'
Another difference, Sonia explained was that, "the last nine years have been a period of tremendous economic growth, social change and technological innovation. New aspirants are manifesting themselves. They call for new responses."
Sonia emphasised in her speech that a significant number of participants are from the younger generation. She said, "This reflects our priorities and resonates with the demographic reality of our country."
She said that she wanted her partymen to speak their mind, "to be free and frank in whatever you want to say."
The party is deliberating on Friday and Saturday on the political challenges, social-economic challenges the issues related to women and children, India's role in regional and global environment and the issues related to the party organisation. She shared her own views on these issues as well.
While trying to give confidence to her party men she reminded them that, "We are the only pan-Indian party. The only political party with a visible and vibrant position in every village, in every basti, in every mohalla of the country."
While putting forward the strengths of the party she said, "We articulate and champion the concerns of all but especially of the weaker sections -- Dalits , Adivasis, minorities and women. We have always given the highest priority to the interests and concerns of farmers and agricultural labour."
She conceded that the party is facing 'increased competition' and 'inroads' have been made into traditional support bases of the Congress. She also reminded party-men from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu types of states where Congress is not in power since many years that "being in power is not the sole purpose" but it does adversely impact on "our morale and organisational ability."
On the issue of alliances with political parties, she remained soft. She talked about striking a balance so that, "the party's rejuvenation is not compromised."
She criticised mildly that certain legislations and programmes of the Centre has not been implemented by the party in the states.
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'We have squandered many opportunities that people are willing to give us'
No speech of Congress president ever misses the mention of poverty.
Sonia said, 'Our fight against inequality and poverty is a continuing one."
While talking about people's unrest she tried to explain that, "Around one crore youth seek productive jobs year after year. No other country faces such a challenge. "
Bit smartly, she then linked the huge employment issue with the investment issue. She said, "This requires us to be pragmatic in encouraging investment which is the only way our employment goals can be achieved." She didn't mention 'foreign investment', but said, "It is the lack of employment that thwarts aspirations and also fuels frustration, crime and violence."
Talking about India's international position, she said that India's influence will increase if India successfully overcomes poverty, improves economic performance, deepens secular values and strengthens democratic institutions.
While talking about India's "better and closer" relation with neighbours, she said, 'However, let us be clear. Our dialogue must be based on acceptable principles of civilised behaviour."
The most sensitive topic for her party is the issue of 'organisation'. She indirectly acknowledged that the party is squandering electoral opportunities. She asked, "Is it not the case that we have squandered many opportunities that people are willing to give us simply because we been unable to function as a disciplined and united team?"
She spoke against the 'lavish and ostentatious displays of wealth', then asked, "does this not beg the question where is wealth coming from?"
She now wants norms that Congressmen could adhere to during weddings, festivals and happy events. The only time audience clapped instantaneously was when she said, "Why do we forget the simple truth that in the party's victory lies the victory of each and every one of us?"