New Delhi: In a two-pronged attack on fundamentalism and corruption, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday said majority and minority communalism are dangerous and must be defeated and favoured fast-tracking all corruption cases, including those of politicians.
Addressing the Congress plenary, she dwelt at length on the two subjects in the backdrop of a number of corruption charges hitting the party and the UPA government headed by it and the controversy surrounding Rahul Gandhi’s comments about Hindu radicalism being “bigger threat” than groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba.
“The Congress party makes no distinction between organisations of the majority and of the minority communities who indulge in communalism and related acts of terrorism. They are all dangerous, they must all be defeated,” Gandhi said in her 30-minute Presidential address to the two-day plenary session that began today.
Maintaining that Congress has always fought against all forms of communalism, regardless of their source, Gandhi said, “communalism is the abuse of religion for narrow political purposes. “It is the abuse of religion and to spread hatred and bigotry. It is the abuse of religion to polarise our society and to divide us.”
In an apparent attack on saffron forces, she said the country cannot ignore the pernicious impact of individuals, institutions and ideologies that distort history and thrive on spreading religious prejudice and inciting people to violence using religion as a cover.
Gandhi’s attack on communalism of all hues comes as an apparent damage-control exercise in the wake of controversy surrounding Rahul’s remarks to US Ambassador Timothy Roemer against Hindu radicalism that came under attack from BJP and RSS.
Dwelving on the issue of corruption over which the government and the party have been under attack, the Congress president expressed concern over the fact that it has “become a disease” at all levels throughout the society. She underlined the need for instituting a new system of fast tracking all cases that concern corruption by public servants, including politicians.
“Such cases drag on interminably and undermine public confidene and trust. Why can’t we put in place systems that bring corruption cases to closure in a defined time-frame? This would bring the guilty to book quickly and clear those unfairly charged,” Gandhi said.
Although she did not mention any specific case of corruption, she was obviously referring to corruption charges that have tarnished the image of the government and the party like 2G spectrum scam, CWG irregularities and Adarsh housing scam in Maharashtra.
Gandhi, who prescribed a four-point action plan to battle corruption, asked party chief ministers and central ministers to relinquish discretionary powers in land allotment, declaring that “we must corruption head-on”. She said there was “ample evidence” that all discretionary powers, particularly in land allocation, breed corruption. “I would like all Congress chief ministers and ministers both at the Centre and the States to set an example by reviewing and relinquishing powers.”
Noting significantly that there was no clapping from the delegates on this suggestion, the Congress president reminded party leaders of the need to be clean in public life.
“Congressmen and women, holding office, must not allow any doubt about their probity and integrity. It ill becomes representatives of a party claiming to speak for the poor to indulge in greed, extravagance and luxury.
“Simplicity, restraint and austerity must be our chosen way. We cannot make this a law. But in a country where poverty is still widespread, let us at least have moral sensibility to avoid vulgar displays of wealth and waste,” she said.
The Congress unseated Ashok Chavan from Maharashtra chief ministership in the wake of Adarsh Housing Society scam, removed Suresh Kalmadi from the post of Secretary of the Parliamentary Party after charges of irregularities in CWG. A Raja, a representative of DMK, was also forced to resign as Union telecom minister in the wake of 2G scam.
In this context, Gandhi hit out at BJP questioning whether it had removed anybody facing corruption charges. “Even when no charge has been established, we have asked ministers and Chief Ministers to step down, pending inquiry. How many other parties can make such a claim? Can the BJP do so in regard to Karnataka where corruption is rampant or other states?”
She attacked the Opposition parties for not allowing the winter session to function, asking “can anything justify bringing Parliament to a halt? Can the Opposition justify undermining the norms on which a Parliamentary democracy functions?
“Surely, Parliament cannot be held hostage to political expediency. Parliament itself is the forum to discuss and resolve contentious issues.” As part of the action plan to take corruption head-on, Gandhi suggested that the government should consider how best to take forward the proposal of state funding of elections.
She also said that the government must ensure through legislation and clear procedures full transparency in public procurement and contracts.
“It is the duty of the administration to ensure that there is no subversion of due process. And should it come to pass, whistle-blowers must be protected,” she said.
There is also need for an open competitive system of exploiting natural resources, which has now assumed much greater urgency, the Congress chief said.
Hailing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Gandhi said he is “the embodiment of sobriety, dignity and integrity” and denounced BJP’s personal attack on him as “downright despicable”.
“On your behalf, I want to compliment him for his wise leadership, for remaining calm amidst the storm and for his unwavering devotion to the progress and prosperity of the nation. The party stands solidly with him,” she said.
Praising Singh’s leadership, she said the economy has moved to much higher growth path. “His stewardship through the global (economic) crisis is acknowledged universally. It is this high economic growth that has enabled us to fund our social welfare programmes and schemes. It has also enabled our government to transfer unprecedented financial resources to the states.”
Gandhi said as the government sustains the momentum of high economic growth, it also faces the challenges of essential commodities whose prices must be kept at affordable levels and inflation kept in check.
She said subsidies meant for the poor must reach them and them alone.
“Subsidies enjoyed by the relatively well-off must be redirected to those in need. It is essential that the quality of public education and healthcare is vastly improved,” she said.
In a message to the party cadres and leaders, the Congress chief said party must always come before the individual and its cohesion should not be jeopardised.
“Let me say that our future will be shaped not by a magic wand or any single individual. Our future will depend on our party’s capacity to work together as a team and to ensure that our organisation does not pull in different directions.
“There are always personal disappointments in politics as in other walks of life. I can understand individual ambitions but when they are not fulfilled, the party’s cohesion should not be jeopardised,” she said.
Earlier in her speech, Gandhi stressed the need for “periodic introspection of critical issues” in the organisation to keep pace with the times.
She said that in the coming months, the party will hold a conclave similar to the brainstorming session in Panchmarhi and Simla.
Talking about poll debacle in Bihar, she said it has only demonstrated that there was no alternative to earnestly beginning the process of revising the party organisation from the grassroots.
“There are no short-cuts. The road ahead will be long and arduous but we will persevere and we will succeed. There is no time for despondency. This is a time for constructive action, including in those states where we are in coalition.”
Reminding the party ministers and office-bearers, Gandhi said let it not be forgotten that it is the party that has made the government and it is primary responsibility of those in office to be sensitive to the voices coming from organisation and ranks.
She said that many party workers in non-Congress ruled states have complained to her that Congress ministers at the Centre do not fully appreciate their concerns.
“They make a valid point. Such neglect is demoralising for our workers who function in a hostile environment. Central workers must engage with the local Congress leadership and workers particularly during their visits,” she said.
The Congress president, in her speech, also spoke on various other issues like Jammu and Kashmir, North-East, terrorism and Naxalism and emphasised that the door for dialogue must be kept open.
She said the recent Varanasi bomb blast is a reminder that vigil can never be relaxed. “Let there be absolutely no no doubt about our determination to confront those elements and organisations who operate from across the border and seek to spread terror, to destroy our social fabric and weaken us economically.”