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Sonia's wake-up call for Indian politicians
Publication Date : 19-01-2013
Congress president Sonia Gandhi yesterday noted the rapidly changing story of a “new India” that she conceded is younger and more demanding, aspirational and more impatient, Internet-savvy and more educated—and angry and dissatisfied with the performance of the ruling class and political parties.
This was a different kind of pitch Sonia Gandhi was making before the entrenched and upcoming leaders of her party as she opened the two-day Congress’s brainstorming session (Chintan Shivir) here on a gray, breezy day setting out the broad contours of her party’s future narrative.
Listing the issues relating to youth and women as priority areas for the Congress, she asked her party brass to “recognise and understand” the fast-evolving new country driven by aspirations and technology, expectations and anger, so that the party could come up with new responses as it charts its way forward.
After nearly a decade, the Congress leadership has organised such a session to hold intensive and extensive deliberations on five identified themes—political challenges, emerging socio-economic concerns, gender discrimination and women empowerment, India’s role in the world, and organisation and elections—in order to firm up its road map for coming years, especially for the 2014 general elections.
Led by Mrs Gandhi and her heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi, Congress leaders from across the country—including the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Union ministers, chief ministers and top state leaders—are participating in the session.
But unlike the two previous brainstorming conclaves—the 1999 Panchmarhi session and the 2003 Shimla conference—the remarkable feature of this session is the participation of a legion of young leaders from the party’s youth and student wings for which credit was given to their in-charge general secretary, the 42-year-old Rahul, the party’s leader-in-the-making and potential PM candidate.
Sonia Gandhi herself referred to this “special dimension” of the conclave—that almost half of its 345 delegates comprises younger generation leaders, mostly from the Youth Congress and the NSUI. “This reflects our priorities and resonates with the demographic reality of our country,” she said.
Although she did not specifically mention the street protests witnessed across the country over the last couple of years, mainly led by students and youths, on a variety of issues, ranging from corruption and scams to last December’s gangrape-and-murder of a Delhi student, they clearly weighed heavily on her mind during her 20-minute speech.
“Across the length and breadth of our country, our people are expecting much more from their political parties. Aided by the tools of the modern world—television, social media, mobile phones and the Internet ~ today’s India is better informed and better equipped to communicate... to seek more from their elected representatives: better delivery, stronger responsiveness, greater accountability and, ultimately, integrity,” she said.
This was markedly new semantics, a fresh language, being articulated by the Congress president in her address to her party. She justified the rising anger and frustration of people over graft at high public places as well as corruption in daily lives.
“This is a phenomenon, a churning that we must understand and continue to respond to. We cannot allow our growing educated and middle-classes to be disillusioned and alienated from the political process.”
While expressing satisfaction over the performance of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre for the last nine years, Mrs Gandhi admitted that an unfinished agenda of faster inclusive-and-equitable growth and progress remains to be fulfilled. Calling for investment to generate employment, she focused on the question of “skilled employment, especially in semi-urban and urban areas”.
“Around one crore (10 million) youth seek productive jobs year after year. No other country faces such a challenge....It is the lack of employment that thwarts aspirations and also fuels frustration, crime and violence,” she said.
Touching upon women’s empowerment, she termed gender issues as “fundamental”. “The entire party must understand them, and bring them to the heart of our political activity and change mindsets.”
Expressing her anguish and pain over discrimination against the girl child, “the trafficking of children and women, brazen sexual harassment”, the Congress supremo asserted: “Atrocities on women, both in urban and rural India, are a blot on our collective conscience and a matter of great shame.”
Turning to political challenges in a year when the party will have to face nine assembly polls—including in BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh—ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next year, she said the Congress has been out of power in several states for too long, which “does have an adverse impact on our morale and organisational ability”.
In such states, she made it clear for the warring satraps and faction leaders there, “we should be coming together, setting aside personal ambitions and egos, and working cohesively so that the party triumphs”.
On international affairs, the Congress president did not specifically mention the current tension between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC), but, while making a case for “better and closer relations with our immediate neighbours” and for “regional peace”, she held:
“However, let’s be clear. Our dialogue must be based on accepted principles of civilised behaviour. We will never compromise on our vigil and preparedness to deal with terrorism and threats on our borders.”
Following Sonia Gandhi’s inaugural speech setting the brainstorming agenda, the session delegates got split in five groups to hold closed-room deliberations on the earmarked subjects.
They will continue their discussions tomorrow following which a consolidated outcome of their exercise will be put together.
This document will be put before an extended Congress Working Committee meeting tomorrow evening for its clearance. The approved report will then be placed before the open meeting of the All India Congress Committee on Sunday for discussion and ratification in the form of a Jaipur Declaration.