In a frontal attack on the Narendra Modi government, Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday said there has been an "alarming increase" in communal incidents since it came to power and asked party men to resist its "authoritarian and sectarian" tendencies.
"It is our task to play the role of a vigilant Opposition, to stand up for the values and policies of the Indian National Congress, and to resist the authoritarian and sectarian tendencies of the new government as it tries to get its way in Parliament.
"This we have begun to do, I believe, with increasing effectiveness," Gandhi said addressing the second meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party in the new Lok Sabha.
Stepping up her attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party on communalism, she alleged that since the BJP has come to power there has been an alarming increase in number of incidents of communal violence.
"We have had hundreds of incidents of communal violence and rioting in Uttar Pradesh, in Maharashtra and a number of other states. In addition, there have been other subtle but pernicious signals of intolerance," Gandhi said telling the party men "our work is cut out for us."
She acknowledged that "It has been a challenging time" for the Congress party. But at the same time, she noted "the process of rebuilding and restoring the confidence of the public in the Congress party has begun."
"We have been reduced in numbers to an all time low in the Lok Sabha. But we have not been reduced in spirit," Gandhi said telling the party men that the work of the Congress is in Parliament, in public forums across the country, in our media and in the streets and homes of ordinary Indians everywhere.
With the Congress still not getting the post of Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha apparently weighing on her mind Gandhi said, "But Parliament is not the only forum available to us. If each of us has to be an effective Congressman and woman, we must also work to maintain and strengthen the grassroot connections to the voters that have brought us here."
Gandhi also accused the Modi government of "stealing" the ideas of the United Progressive Alliance and "borrowing" its programmes as it has "nothing new to offer".
"The lesson of these ten weeks is that the BJP has nothing new to offer the country. They attacked us without principles and they are now governing us without policies. Well, they are welcome to steal our ideas. They are welcome to borrow our programmes.
"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Let them even continue to blame us for their own failures, as they have been doing," she said.
Attacking the government over issues including price rise and unemployment, the Congress president said, "Prices are rising across the nation, hurting the ordinary housewife, the college student, the worker, and particularly the unemployed and deprived.
"How long will they be able to blame UPA government for your inability to control or improve the economy? Such excuses have a short shelf life."
The National Democratic Alliance government's first budget also came in for sharp criticism in the Congress president's speech.
Noting that the ten weeks that passed since the last the Congress parliamentary party was held in May have been eventful ones for the country and the world, she said, "The government has introduced and passed a Budget that breaks little or no new ground."
"They have paid us the tribute of imitating and extending, if not strengthening, a number of Congress programmes and initiatives that they had vehemently attacked when they were in Opposition.
"The new government now supports the proposed Goods and Services Tax, sugar subsidies, railway and diesel price hikes, the Foreign Direct Investment in insurance, the Aadhaar scheme, and other key UPA budget measures, all of which they had bitterly -- and, if I might add, hypocritically -- denounced, obstructed and prevented progress on when they were where we are today," she said.
Gandhi said that the new government also tried to prevent a discussion on Gaza in Parliament and then ended up voting at the United Nations Human Rights Council just as the UPA would have.
"They have also, finally, seen the wisdom of our government’s initiative in trying to reach a land boundary agreement with Bangladesh which, you will recollect, they had refused to support last year."
Touching on the incidents of rape she said that women, too, have much to be concerned about, judging by the evidence of the BJP rule so far.
"Violence against women is rampant, and increasing. I do not need to repeat to you the growing number of rapes, sexual assaults and even killings of women that have occurred on the BJP’s watch," Gandhi said.
The Congress president also flagged the "atrocious behaviour of some BJP legislators and the unacceptable views expressed by others in complete disregard of our time-honoured secular traditions and constitutional propriety."
"Let us be clear. There is a great deal of concern throughout the country, particularly among women and minorities, the poor, about whether the BJP and its sister organisations mean to work for all of India’s communities, or whether they seek to profit from dividing the nation on sectarian lines.
"In my mind, I have no doubt about the answer... The moment the BJP betrays the ideals on which this nation was built, the moment they pursue politics of division and hatred, the moment they try to behave dictatorially inside or outside this temple of Indian democracy -- the moment they do any of these things, we will stand up and fight them," she said.
"This is the tendency we must resist with all our strength. Our work is cut out for us. As we leave this Parliament and prepare to return to our constituencies, let us take the message to our voters that the Congress stands resolutely with the people of India.
Gandhi said her party will continue to defend the defenceless. "We will continue to work to empower the powerless. We will continue to give voice to the hopes and fears and needs of the voiceless," she said.
Gandhi said that while it was said that the motto of this government is "minimum government, maximum governance" what the nation seems to have got is "minimum governance to protect the aam aadmi, maximum government to amass power in the hands of the BJP"
The Congress chief said that her party will never cease to be the party that embodies the spirit of the nationalist struggle and the principles of democracy, pluralism and social justice on which Independent India has been built for nearly seven decades.
At the outset, she said, "Our work in Parliament is the foundation of this process. This is where we show our commitment to defending our democracy against those who wish to make it an instrument of their narrow political agendas."
Noting that it is the voice of the people to which MPs seek to give expression in Parliament, Gandhi recalled that many Congress members had spoken to her about their desire to see the CPP functioning as a more cohesive and purposeful unit.
"This is why we have instituted regular weekly meetings of a small committee of members of both houses. We use these occasions to plan strategy and to identify the key issues facing the nation that it is our duty to raise in Parliament," she said.
Gandhi said that she believes that the party is already seeing the results of this approach. "You are all better-informed, more focused and even more strongly motivated to perform actively and effectively in the House. The process of rebuilding and restoring the confidence of the public in the Congress Party has begun," she said.
Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi