Cong revives ‘garibi hatao’

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The Congress on Tuesday indicated that Indira Gandhi’s old “garibi hatao” slogan was back at the centre of its agenda after party general secretary Rahul Gandhi conceded in an unscheduled speech at the one-day AICC session that “two Hindustans” existed even after economic reforms. Top party leaders, including Prime

Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, meanwhile, remained silent on raging corruption controversies — including those relating to the Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai and the Commonwealth Games held here last month — which have been tarnishing the party’s image in the country.
The Congress also announced that its plenary session will be held in New Delhi from December 18 to 20. The siginificance of this plenary is that it will mark the completion of 125 years of the party.
Setting the tone for Tuesday’s AICC session at the Talkatora Stadium here, Mr Rahul Gandhi, who rose to speak after vociferous demands from assembled party workers, said: “There are two Hindustans — one is growing very fast, and the other is for the poor (which is in crisis). We have to connect and unite the two.” Lavishing praise on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he said: “It is only the poor people who can take the country forward. And if we have to take the poor people forward, the Prime Minister’s strategy for economic growth is a necessity. We have to work like the PM, who is giving economic growth to this country. That is what we need. (And) it is only the Congress — a national party — which can do it (unite the two Hindustans) as it has a presence all over the country.” The other parties, he noted, are “either regional, or based on caste or religion”.
In her speech, Congress president Sonia Gandhi made it clear that alliances and coalitions did not mean that the Congress was willing to concede space to others, in a subtle message to current and prospective allies ahead of Assembly elections in 10 states.
The message sent out by the one-day session, the AICC’s first after the party’s victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, was to identify it with the poor in an effort to marginalise regional and caste-based parties such as the BSP, SP, JD(U), JD(S), RJD, TDP, BJD, Shiv Sena, MNS and the Dravaidian outfits, which have of late occupied political space both in the Hindi heartland and in South India. The Congress also made it clear to allies like the Trinamul Congress and the DMK that it was not ready to become their “B” team.
In his speech, Mr Rahul Gandhi said the Congress was gaining strength every year, pointing out how earlier people used to say that it was “finished” in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. “(But) the party is not finished. It can easily be rekindled by learning the problems of the poor and working for them.”
Mrs Gandhi sent out a clear signal to both current and prospective allies in her opening speech: “We made alliances with different parties at the Centre and in states.We do respect our allies. But it does not mean that we stop efforts to grow our organisation or to abdicate our political space.”
Asking partymen to unitedly prepare for Assembly polls in 10 states due in the next two years, she said these electoral battles were a “very big test” for the party. “We have to prepare ourselves at the grassroots level... Our strength has been tested several times... There is no other party in the country which has its presence in every village, block and district.”
Promising food security to a majority of the population, Mrs Gandhi said: “We are in the process of drafting a new law that will guarantee food security. It will also create a much more efficient and effective PDS.”
But there was total silence by top party leaders on corruption issues as Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan and Commonwealth Games organising committee chief Suresh Kalmadi sat among the AICC delegates. Even finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who along with defence minister A.K. Antony is currently inquiring into Mr Chavan’s role in the Adarsh Housing Society scam in Mumbai, remained quiet about the matter while addressing the session.
Both Mrs Gandhi and Dr Singh, who also addressed the meeting, talked about the Kashmir situation and inclusive growth and referred to the RSS’ role in terror activities. The Prime Minister hailed Mrs Gandhi as the “longest-serving” party president — in office for the past 12 years — and for her efforts to get the party back to power at the Centre for a second term.

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