'Give peace a chance in Kashmir'
Observing that a "new situation" has emerged in Jammu and Kashmir, Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday described the recent unrest in the state as "painful" and appealed to all "dissatisfied" sections to give peace a chance so that their future could be built.
She said the government was keen on a "meaningful political dialogue" with all political parties and regions of the state for which the interlocutors have been appointed.
"We are faced with a new situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The events of the last few months were painful," Gandhi said addressing the AICC session in New Delhi.
Gandhi expressed anguish at the loss of young lives in Kashmir.
"I share their grief. Their loss is national loss. The whole generation has seen nothing but violence and conflict," she said.
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Image: File photo of Congress president Sonia Gandhi
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters
'Babri demolition was a shameful, criminal act'
Sonia said the Allahabad high court judgment in the Ayodhya Ram Janambhoomi-Babri-Masjid title case in no way condoned the demolition of the mosque 18 years ago.
Gandhi said: "It (the demolition of the mosque) was a shameful, criminal act and all those responsible must be brought to justice."
"We all remember how tense the country was in the days prior to the judgement. It is a tribute to our country that the people ensured peace and harmony prevailed," she added.
"The broader message for us all is that our fight against communalism of all kinds, against fanaticism of all types has to continue unabated. This is a political struggle for a secular India," she said.
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters
'We do respect our allies, but...'
In a more than subtle message to its allies, Gandhi said that being in coalition at the Centre does not mean the party should give up efforts to strengthen itself and abdicate its political space.
"We have made alliances with different parties at the Centre and in states. We do respect our allies. But it does not mean that we stop efforts to grow our organisation or abdicate our political space," Gandhi said.
Asking partymen to unitedly prepare for the assembly elections in 10 states due next year and in 2012, she said these electoral battles are a "very big test" for the party.
"We have to prepare ourselves at the grassroot level".
The party has seen several ups and downs and "our strength has been tested several times...There is no other party in the country which has its presence in every village, block and district," Gandhi said.
Her remarks are significant in view of the fact that already a tussle is on between the party and the Trinamool Congress, led by Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, over the issue of alliance for West Bengal assembly polls next year.
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters
'The government is firm on taming the Naxals'
The Congress President said Naxalism was the biggest threat to internal security of India.
Gandhi said: "Naxalism or Left-wing extremism is serious internal security threat. The government is firm on taming the Naxal threat while it is open for dialogue."
"We have maintained that police action is necessary but greater emphasis is essential on economic issues. There must be greater sensitivity for daily concerns of tribals living there," she added.
Expressing concern over the Maoist activities in some parts of the country, she said the extremists have caused serious law and order situation leading to senseless killing of civilians and security forces and wanton destruction of public property.
"Armed struggle against the State by any section of the society cannot be tolerated. The government should take all appropriate steps to curb it," she said, adding, "These areas need to be developed but it is the nature of that development is in question. People must have a say and they must have a stake."
Tightlipped on Adarsh society
The Congress president, however, chose to remain tightlipped on the Mumbai housing scam and the CWG irregularities.
On Saturday, Gandhi set up a two-member panel to probe how the 31-storeyed plush Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society came up on a piece of land meant for families of Kargil martyrs and the allotment of flats to politicians, bureaucrats and military officials.
The 31-storey Adarsh Society in Colaba, Mumbai, has become the catchment area for a massive political controversy.
Former army chiefs, politicians and bureaucrats have all been allotted flats here for a fraction of the market rate.
Records show that two members of Chavan's family, whom he describes as distant relatives, are among the 104 alottees for Adarsh Society. The CBI is now investigating the scam.
As far as controversies surrounding the CWG is concerned, while the government machinery has been put to work to probe the alleged irregularities linked the event the opposition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe in the matter.
Image: Adarsh housing society
Photographs: Sahil Salvi