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Sonia backs PM with best birthday gift

New Delhi, Sept. 25: Sonia Gandhi gave Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a birthday gift a day in advance by ensuring explicit support for his tough economic decisions in the party’s highest decision-making body.

Singh, born on September 26 eighty years ago, had demonstrated grit by pushing risky decisions like a hike in diesel prices and limiting the number of subsidised LPG cylinders to six, evoking protests from rivals and predictions of doom from a section of his own party.

But Sonia, much like former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao did in the early 1990s, stood firmly by Singh in the Congress Working Committee meeting.

The Congress president, at the very outset, disabused doubting Thomases of any suspicion they may have nursed about her intentions to question the unpopular measures. Sonia unequivocally stated that the government had acted in the long-term interest of the country.

She also referred to the BJP’s political design to target the Prime Minister and its “negative approach” that was hurting both India’s polity and economy.

Sonia’s forceful advocacy of the Prime Minister disheartened those who felt the government had bungled on several counts and brought disrepute to the party. Nobody dared to denounce the policies, though there were several voices of caution, primarily to ensure that welfare schemes for the poor were not weakened.

But these issues were not raised at the CWC as finance minister P. Chidambaram had already explained that high growth was necessary to generate resources for the flagship programmes.

Chidambaram, who gave a detailed briefing on the global economic scenario and domestic policy imperatives, cleverly built the government’s case by emphasising the need for enormous resources to sustain the welfare schemes the Congress leadership was committed to.

This was in harmony with the party’s philosophy and even those who disagreed with the methods of mopping up resources avoided making any critical references.

It is not a secret that the Kerala unit of the party is opposed to the FDI decision and a large number of leaders from other states share their concern. But they fell in line as Sonia asserted that these measures were required to restore the economy to prime health.

The AICC office-bearers were told in advance not to question the government’s decisions. Hence most of the 21 speakers confined themselves to requesting the Prime Minister to ensure that the focus remained on pro-people schemes.

Chidambaram said there were three options before the government to deal with the crisis: generate more resources by taking tough decisions, increase production to strengthen the supply side to bring down inflation and control subsidies. He said the government was trying to strike a balance and use all three options to reach the high growth trajectory.

The finance minister recalled how India survived recent global crises because of the government’s judicious handling of the economy.

The Prime Minister, who repeated the reasons he cited in his address to the nation, reaffirmed the government’s resolve to focus on the aam aadmi and the deprived sections of the society.

He contended that a sound economy was essential for carrying out the extraordinary flagship programmes of the UPA, which included MNREGA (rural job scheme) and other rural health, education and housing schemes. He said these ambitious schemes had been sustained so far only because the Indian economy grew at a healthy rate.

Singh stressed that the Congress must stay united to face the Opposition onslaught. Sonia, too, said the main Opposition was not behaving responsibly and asked the party to aggressively counter its propaganda.

Neither the Prime Minister nor Sonia took Mamata Banerjee’s name though they said one ally had left the UPA without appreciating the compulsions before the government.

Sonia referred to two new allies (the Samajwadi Party and the BSP), allaying fears about any immediate threat to the government, which according to her, was “moving in the right direction.”