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Sonia gives poll call with Centre assault

New Delhi, March 28: Congress president Sonia Gandhi today virtually unveiled her elaborate campaign plans for the successful defence of party-ruled Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi later this year and, thereafter, reclaiming power at the Centre with a blistering attack on the Vajpayee-led government.

“We live in testing times, but the next few months are going to be particularly demanding. All of us will be called upon to strive extraordinarily hard to keep the Congress flag flying high,” Sonia told the first national gathering of district and block Congress chiefs here.

She was obviously referring to the challenge of retaining power in the four states during the Assembly polls and thus bolstering the party’s prospects in the Lok Sabha elections next year.

Sonia urged the grassroots leaders to seek inspiration from the party’s track record and its philosophy and ideology when meeting the political and electoral challenges ahead. She said the Congress had “provided that united India. (Whereas) the BJP has provided a government that is dividing India”.

Five years ago, Sonia said, the BJP had pledged to eliminate “bhay, bhook aur bhrashtachar (fear, hunger and corruption)”, but the ruling party had failed to deliver on any of these.

Asserting that national security was the Centre’s prime responsibility, she said the sense of insecurity among people had increased. Despite broad support from political parties, including the Congress, the Centre had failed to fight militancy, anti-national activities and crime. “How can the country ever forget that it was a BJP foreign minister who personally escorted three hardcore terrorists to safety in a special flight to Afghanistan'” Militants attacked the very citadel of Indian democracy (Parliament) during NDA rule, she said.

Sonia then ripped apart the Centre’s record on fighting hunger. It was ironical, she said, that people were going hungry because of drought when the country’s food godowns were full. The Centre did not even spare those farmers from whom it procured foodgrain because higher urea price was imposed on them, she said.

The overall economic situation, Sonia said, was gloomy as the Centre was following “reckless” policies which were slowing down economic growth, and the divestment of public sector units was not helping boost employment either.

She ridiculed the BJP’s promise of providing a corruption-free government. The last five years, she said, had seen a “corrupt administration, an administration that has seen a number of scams....Scams have taken place even in the purchase of coffins for our brave jawans and defence forces who laid down their lives for the country at Kargil”.

According to Sonia, the greatest damage the BJP inflicted on the country was in sharpening the communal divide.

Sonia praised her party’s 15 state governments which “have set new standards of good governance and effective administration”. The Congress chief said she was regularly holding conferences of her chief ministers to achieve more of good governance. The Guwahati resolve of the chief ministers would be fully implemented, she said.

Sonia also heard out the grassroots leaders, many of whom spoke out against top state leaders. Rattan Singh from Haryana particularly caught the gathering’s attention when he blasted Haryana chief Bhajan Lal and his predecessors, B.S. Hooda and Veerender Singh for fighting among themselves to become chief minister. “They are not working to make you (Sonia) the Prime Minister,” he said.

The party offensive against the BJP was later elaborated by senior leaders such as Arjun Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, Natwar Singh and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.

Sonia promised to come up with an agenda for the Congress that would outline programmes and policies to improve the condition of farmers, Scheduled Castes and Tribes and other weaker sections, and empower women.

Iraq found a mention in Sonia’s tirade against the Centre when she began her 45-minute opening address with a criticism of the ongoing US-led military attack.

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