Sonia Gandhi asks party, govt to pull up socks ahead of LS polls

Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked the party and the government to pull their socks up to get a renewed mandate in the next Lok Sabha elections.

Surajkund: Concerned over the adverse political fall-out of the reforms measures and the battering on account of scams, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday asked the party and the government to pull their socks up to get a renewed mandate in the next Lok Sabha elections.

The government was given a clear message by Gandhi that it is the party that brings it to power and those in the government should understand the difficulties of the organisation.

As a first step towards better coordination, the `dialogue meeting` of the party top brass including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi, Cabinet Ministers and CWC members, saw the party chief announcing the setting up of a Coordination Group and sub-groups with specific tasks.

"With a year and half left for the Lok Sabha elections, both party and government will have to work cohesively together to ensure that we secure a renewed mandate," Gandhi said in her concluding remarks at the day-long meeting, whose message was the need for better coordination and understanding between the party and the government.

"Being Congress workers, we are members of the same family... It is but natural that sometimes occasions may come when we feel the need for a balance between the responsibilities of the party and the government," she said.

In a bid to counter the adverse fall out on account of the tough economic measures taken by the government, the meeting saw a majority of the leaders demanding a raise in the cap of six LPG cylinders per family to 12, along with a demand for a populist budget with significant Income Tax sops and programmes to reach out to all sections.

At the same time the government`s difficulties in pandering to populism came clear in the speeches of the Prime Minister and Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who both said that the primary challenge was to raise the growth and cut down fiscal deficit for which difficult decisions were necessary.

Their speeches gave no indication of how the government will be able to meet the populist demand when the situation calls for slashing government expenditure and raise revenues.

The meeting also saw some senior leaders expressing
unhappiness over the emphasis on growth rate. One of the leaders said that the common man does not understand the statistics of GDP growth.

Defence Minister A K Antony is learnt to have expressed concern over the handling of natural resources in the country saying "we cannot deal with the natural resources of the country in the manner in which we have dealt with it so far".

The Prime Minister, however, expressed confidence that the government`s "good economic policies will give strength to good politics".

"The need is that we keep confidence in ourselves and work hard unitedly and dedicatedly," he said at the same time adding that despite the economic constraints, the flagship programmes for the welfare of the people will continue unaffected.

Singh`s refrain was that there was a "need for better climate" for investors, domestic and international as greater investment has direct bearing on economic development.

Apparently with the controversy over FDI in retail on his mind, he said it would be better that in the task of national importance, the government should get cooperation from state governments, political parties and civil society. "But our efforts in this regard have not been successful fully," he rued.

Initiating the discussion on the economic issue, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said, "We have challenges, but we have to come overcome them. We have to avoid controversies over reforms.”

"Many steps have been taken in last two months to get over stagnation and get on with growth. We need to stablilise the value of rupee. We must restart the growth engine."

Rahul Gandhi made a strong pitch for transparency in governance and the need for adapting change in the political system. Gandhi said, "It is the same Congress which had brought nationalisation of banks and it is the same Congress which liberalised the economy".

Sonia Gandhi set the tone of the deliberations in her
opening remarks by asking those in the government to strive hard to fulfill all the unfulfilled promises in the 2009 election manifesto.

Noting that about 18 months were left for the next Parliamentary polls, Gandhi told partymen that they will have to aggressively respond to the "false propaganda" of its opponents who are attempting to grab power at any cost.

She said that clearly there is a need to do much more to derive the maximum political benefit of the central government`s flagship schemes.

Noting that the government interface has to be kept alive, she said "the central government has to be more sensitive to our party state units especially in the Opposition-ruled states."

She later said that Chintan Shivir of the party was long overdue and will take forward the suggestions made in this meeting.

Gandhi hailed the "able" leadership of the Prime Minister to the government which, she said, has helped the country stave off to a large extent the effects of the global economic slowdown for the past few years when countries much more developed than India are in crisis.

"But we cannot be fully insulated from the global economic crisis," she said, conceding that the government had to take certain decisions due to the crisis because of which the common man faced difficulties.

"The challenge before us is to tell the people about the reasons which forced us to take the decisions," Gandhi said in an obvious reference to the hike in prices of petroleum products as also LPG.

After the deliberations, which saw a near unanimity on raising the number of subsidized LPG cylinders per family, Petroleum Minister M Veerppa Moily said he would arrive at a decision after discussing the issue with the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister.

The Coordination Group, which has been set up with three sub groups with specific tasks will be announced soon.

Party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said that in the meeting leaders raised issues on how to ensure regular dialogue and communication between the party and the government.

"Government should understand the problems of the party and the party should of the government. After all it is the party, which makes the government," he quoted Gandhi as saying in the meeting.

The meeting also saw senior Congress leader Ajit Jogi demanding that Rahul Gandhi should be given a larger role in the party functioning sooner than later.

Sonia Gandhi noted that some colleagues in the party had reservations over certain decisions of the government as also their timing. Many in the party were dissatisfied over the way ministers were not giving due attention to their suggestions and concerns, she said.

The Congress President wanted the ministers to listen to party workers and address their concerns.

AICC general secretary Mukul Wasnik is learnt to have said that there was need for greater focus on the Scheduled Caste sub plan and Tribal sub plan.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari is understood to have told the meeting that every minister should present a report card of the performance of his ministry like the Home Ministry.

A suggestion was the state unit should be asked to decide the District unit chief and not the AICC.

Out of the 70 party leaders invited for the meeting, 66 attended. The absentees included AICC general secretary Vilas Muttemwar, Union Minister Dinsha Patel, M V Rajsekharan and film-star turned politicians Chiranjeevi.

Rahul Gandhi said that Congress has faced challenges in past as well and there is no reason why it cannot face the challenges now.


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