The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia salute to foot soldier
- Party chief lists ‘many lessons’ of may 2004

Hyderabad, Jan. 23: In power, the BJP had pushed the karyakarta (worker) out of its mind. It rediscovered him at the first national council it held after losing the last Lok Sabha elections.

Today, when Sonia Gandhi reminded delegates at the Congress plenary that the May 2004 verdict held “many lessons” for the party and the government, she had the party worker on top of her mind.

The Congress president’s speech, coming at a time when her party faces a slew of difficult state elections, was a paean to the karyakarta. Her son and Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi, too, later spoke in a similar vein.

“Lakhs of Congress workers all over the country worked tirelessly and selflessly to ensure our victory (in 2004),” Sonia said. “I want to acknowledge their contributions and say that without them, without their devotion and dedication, we would not be in power today at the Centre.”

She called on the workers to overcome the “challenges” in the five states going to the polls this year, including Bengal and Kerala. Sonia suggested regular training camps to keep the workers posted on current issues and the party’s stand on them.

Recognising the dilemma workers face in attacking a Congress-led government, the party chief told them not to fight shy of “highlighting people’s concerns” and asked the government not to treat such statements from workers as criticism.

Sonia had several other messages for the Congress governments at the Centre and in the states. She underlined the need for proper party-government co-ordination, asked the ministers not to ignore the workers on assuming office and gently prodded the Centre not to stray from its commitments in the election manifesto.

As for her MPs and ministers, she was unhappy at the “ostentatious” lifestyles some of them led. “I feel sad to see the way weddings and birthdays are celebrated. It seems as though we are mocking the poor,” she said.

“Don’t mistake me, I am not against sharing happiness on special occasions. But I am certainly against the flashy display and consumption of wealth.”

The Congress president warned against the abuse of power and public office.

“The way some of our colleagues use their positions goes against the ideals we uphold. There was something special about the way our freedom fighters and great leaders lived and worked. Our elected representatives should adhere to a code of ethics in their daily conduct, not care for their own interests and maintain the prestige of their positions.”

Sonia said a task force would be set up to review the Congress constitution, which hasn’t been revised since it was drafted.

“There are suggestions that the constitution needs to be relooked. In today’s circumstances, some changes are needed, including big changes. I will not go into the specifics,” she said.

Sources said the proposals include scrapping the distinction between primary and active members and having only nominated members in the working committee. Half the panel’s 24 members are now elected and the rest nominated by the party chief.

Sonia also demanded a review of the panchayati raj act to plug loopholes.

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