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January 7, 1998


More support to Indian industry if Congress comes to power

George Iype in New Delhi

Stability, secularism, the conspiracy to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi and the need to embark on a second phase of economic liberalisation will be the issues that the Congress will project in its election manifesto.

While the Jain Commission's findings on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination will be a major issue in its manifesto, the Congress will also offer its regret on the Babri Masjid demolition to India's Muslim community.

The draft manifesto, which has been forwarded to the Congress Working Committee for final approval, is expected to be released by January 14.

The manifesto is the joint effort of a seven member committee consisting of Arjun Singh, Dr Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, J B Patnaik, V N Gadgil, Madhavsinh Solanki and N D Tiwari. While party president Sitaram Kesri and vice-president Jitendra Prasada chipped in with some points, a number of senior leaders have suggested special packages for the minorities and weaker sections in society.

Projecting a new economic agenda for the country, the Congress manifesto will hold the United Front government responsible for the current economic and industrial stagnation.

A senior party leader said the thrust of the manifesto will be the continuation of the economic liberalisation process initiated in 1991 by the previous Congress government headed by P V Narasimha Rao. But the Congress, he said, will now advocate a slower pace of trade reform, signalling that a further reduction in import duties should be linked with the improvement in the investment climate.

The party will argue that the new investment climate should include reduction in the cost of finance, energy and other inputs for domestic manufacturers.

While a Congress administration will provide more support to Indian industry to help it confront foreign competition, it will also provide maximum stress on government investment to revive the economy.

The Congress programme will underline a substantial increase in government expenditure on public works, housing and infrastructure so as to stimulate demand for core sector products which will have a favourable effect on the job market.

Orissa Chief Minister Janaki Ballabh Patnaik, a member of the manifesto committee, has made a strong plea that power subsidies cannot continue and that the power sector needs to be privatised. The Congress is likely to accept this recommendation in the manifesto.

Congress sources said apologising for the Babri Masjid demolition through the manifesto will be a strategic move to woo the sizeable Muslim vote bank in the country.

The Congress had expressed regret on the Babri Masjid issue for the first time at the All India Congress Committee session in Calcutta last August.

Moreover, a special Congress committee consisting of Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Salman Khurshid, Margaret Alva and Najma Heptullah have recommended special packages for the social and economic upliftment of the minorities.

Some parts of the manifesto will bear Kesri's imprimatur. The party president has suggested that social development, education, health and nutrition be placed high on the agenda in the manifesto. His recommendation that the party should have credible programmes for children, youth, food security, growth and social security have also been included in the manifesto.

While the conspiracy to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi will be an important election issue for the Congress, its manifesto will refrain from casting aspersions on former prime minister Narasimha Rao for any cover-up. The reason for this being that Kesri was a member of the Rao Cabinet which had taken a collective decision to deny some vital documents to the Jain Commission.

The manifesto committee had asked Arjun Singh to finalise the comments on the Jain Commission. Singh told Rediff On The NeT that he has submitted his opinion on the Commission's report to the manifesto committee. "I expect these comments to be included in the manifesto," he said.

Singh disclosed that his comments claimed that Rajiv's assassination was part of a wider international conspiracy to destabilise South Asian nations. "The Congress manifesto will be a comprehensive agenda for a new Congress and for a new India," the former Union minister added.

Rajiv or Stability, the Congress is in a dilemma

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