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Cong split over economic policies

BS Political Bureau in New Delhi | February 20, 2004 10:22 IST

A debate on the economic critique of the National Democratic Alliance government's policies and what the Congress should offer its voters is delaying the Congress election manifesto.

"I am writing the Congress manifesto for the others to tear into it. At this stage, it is not ready for public debate," manifesto drafting committee member Mani Shankar Aiyar told Business Standard. Others engaged in the final drafting are Jairam Ramesh and Salman Khurshid.

But party sources said it was clear that the command-economy versus globalisation debate that had been going on in the party for some time, was far from settled.

The competing tendencies in the party are represented by second rung leaders like Jairam Ramesh who argue that the party must be forward-looking and must look to creating new constituencies for itself while retaining the vote banks.

This means targeting specific groups formed in the wake of economic reforms and claiming with pride, the credit for economic reforms.

But others including Aiyar and Arjun Sengupta feel that the greatest mistake of the Congress has been to lose track of the poverty agenda.

It is the continuing existence of 25 per cent, or so, of the population living below the poverty line, that must be emphasised to puncture the India Shining propaganda.

This view is shared by those in the party whose primary enemy is the Left Front in the states.

Supporters of Manmohan Singh argue that there can be no debate on economic reforms -- that is tantamount to questioning the Congress' commitment to liberalisation from 1991.

But there are votaries of a middle path who feel the party must not be blown away by the winds of liberalisation.

Addressing the Confederation of India Industry, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had spelt out priorities of the party that strongly emphasised the middle path.

The party was for accelerating employment generation, making public enterprises in strategic areas stronger and continuing food subsidies, she had said. It was for transparent privatisation.

She had said while the mixed economy was an article of faith for the Congress, the party was for freeing enterprise from control -- not letting the government lose control.

This is the view that is likely to be spelt out at length in a set of three or four "vision statements" that will serve as backup documents for the manifesto.

Unlike the last election when the Congress manifesto was a bulky 50 printed pages, this time it is expected to be a short, zippy, readable document.

The party's intentions are going to spelt out in "vision documents" on the national security, governance, development and the economy, and possibly social problems like women, health and education.

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