New Delhi: In a bid to give a push to the UPA government's economic agenda ahead of the 2014 general elections and counter its detractors, especially in the wake several corruption scandals, the Congress on Sunday held a mega rally at the Ramlila Maidan here.
The rally was addressed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi among others, and was utilised as a launch pad for counter offensive against the Opposition, especially the BJP.
The Congress said the BJP itself was "neck-deep" in corruption and indicated that the UPA government will go ahead with implementing FDI in retail.
The rally was well attended and present on the occasion were party chief ministers and other senior leaders. The message conveyed: that the party was on board on economic reforms and the recent fuel price hike notwithstanding the strident attack from the Opposition.
The PM listed his government’s economic reforms measures and blamed the Opposition for trying to defame the UPA by spreading baseless rumours.
Hailing Sonia Gandhi's leadership, the PM said that under the Congress president’s guidance, the party has worked towards ideals of secularism and social equality for the benefit of ‘aam admi’.
He advocated economic reforms, saying they are required to create more jobs.
Speaking about the move to allow Foreign Direct Investment in retail, the PM said the FDI would help, not hit farmers and small retailers.
The Prime Minister said that greater investment and positive atmosphere for the industry is needed for faster growth of the country.
"Recently, our government has taken certain decisions. Attempt is being made to mislead the people and spread all kind of rumours about them," he said.
Noting that the Opposition had protested when he as the Finance Minister had initiated economic reforms in 1991, the Prime Minister said, "A similar protest has begun now. I can say it with confidence that those, who are opposing us, will be proved wrong."
"The burden of subsidy is growing on the Centre in which oil subsidy is a major part. As far as I understand economic issues, it is the common man and the country which will suffer if the subsidy bill and the government's deficit will continue to rise.
"It will lead to lack of confidence in our economy and rise in poverty and unemployment. That is why some difficult decisions have been taken about fuel pricing. But the poor have been kept in mind," Singh said, adding that the price of kerosene oil have not been touched.
While noting that fighting corruption is "duty" of the government, Singh also had a word of caution. "We should also keep in mind that we should not create situations in which honest officers avoid taking decisions".
‘Our record is clean’
Sonia Gandhi, who addressed the rally last, hailed the Congress as the only party which is secular and blamed the Opposition for not wanting to debate on important issues.
Dispelling any impression about Congress and the government having second thoughts on the FDI issue, Sonia Gandhi said that the country needed a large dose of investment, of which FDI is a part, to boost growth and employment.
Lauding the stewardship of the Prime Minister at a time when the world was witnessing economic distress, she said that India has fared much better than many other countries and the government has to provide jobs for 80 to 100 lakh youth who enter the job market every year.
Against the backdrop of attacks on Congress over a number of scams, Gandhi said that corruption is a cancer that afflicts the poor. “It will be fought through law”.
She declared that whoever is found guilty will not be spared.
In a veiled attack on BJP, which she did not name, Gandhi said that those levelling false allegations against Congress, were themselves "neck-deep" in corruption”.
"Those who dig ditches for others, have a well ready for them", she said quoting a Hindi proverb in an apparent reference to corruption charges against BJP including those faced by its president Nitin Gadkari.
Claiming credit for enacting RTI to bring transparency and check corruption, Gandhi said such a law can be brought only by those who want to eradicate corruption and that was the reason the government brought the Lokpal Bill, but BJP did not allow its passage in Rajya Sabha.
"Our conscience is clear, our record is clean and our intentions are well. There is no need for the Congress to be on the defensive", Sonia Gandhi said charging the Opposition with trying to "weaken the foundations of democracy".
She alleged that those who are levelling allegations against the government, which have been elected twice, wanted to weaken it by hook or by crook.
"They are continuously obstructing Parliament. Why? The straight answer is that these people do not want laws for the welfare of the people to be passed and do not want discussion on matters of national importance," Gandhi said.
‘Will get Lokpal Bill passed’
Rahul Gandhi, who first addressed the rally, vowed to get the Lokpal Bill passed in Parliament in the coming months.
He attacked the Opposition for preventing the anti-corruption legislation's passage earlier.
"They are engaged in simply opposing without giving any thought," Gandhi said. "We will get the (Lokpal) Bill passed in Parliament soon. Wait and watch," he assured the party workers.
He also attacked Opposition parties for "lying" to farmers about FDI in multi-brand retail, saying the UPA government's policy will benefit farmers immensely.
Rahul said the FDI policy of the government would bring in cold storage facilities and food processing centres to farmers, ensuring more profits to them.
"It was BJP, which first talked of FDI. They were weak- hearted. We are strong-hearted. So we did. But when we did it, they said no to it in Parliament," the Congress general secretary said.
Making a strong case for economic reforms, he said, "If the poor have to progress, then FDI is needed, the economic reforms are needed."
He also touched upon the anti-corruption movement in the country, noting that it was the UPA government of the last eight years that brought in the Right to Information Act in 2005 through which people could get any information from the government.
The strong stand of Congress and the government on the FDI issue has come at a time when the Opposition is planning to make a common cause against the issue in the Winter Session of Parliament beginning November 22.
(With agency inputs)
First Published: Sunday, November 04, 2012, 08:30