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Women complain of ‘torture’ to Sonia

New Delhi, Jan. 19: A young group has summoned the courage to raise before Sonia Gandhi an unpleasant issue rarely discussed in the Congress: exploitation of women by some male party leaders.

Some young women delegates at the Congress’s Jaipur Chintan Shivir today asked Sonia to hand out exemplary punishment to such leaders.

With the veil coming off the issue, many more women participants affirmed that women did often face “psychological and physical torture” at the hands of some senior party leaders.

A woman delegate told The Telegraph on the condition of anonymity: “Soniaji was told we have to stop this, no matter how big the price the party has to pay.”

The price could indeed be high: some senior leaders do have a reputation for womanising and formal complaints have been filed against many.

There have been allegations of women ticket seekers being exploited at various levels and political patronage flowing through sexual gratification. Many women leaders concede in private that politics can be a dirty place for women who lack a godfather or a family background in the field.

Several delegates today demanded that all those who face charges of sexual harassment or are known habitual offenders should be denied election tickets and barred from party posts.

Sonia agreed that women’s exploitation went deep and needed urgent attention but did not elaborate on the internal party matter. She, however, suggested that strong laws and strict policing alone would not achieve results if gender sensitisation was not taken up with sincerity.

Providing details of the closed-door deliberations, a party source said: “She said it should begin at home with every parent treating the son and the daughter as equals.”

Sonia had yesterday said: “Atrocities on women, both in urban and rural India, are a blot on our collective conscience and a matter of great shame.”

The final draft on women’s empowerment may for the first time demand job reservation for the gender in both the public and private sectors, arguing that economic empowerment was the key to gender equality.

Outsider outcry

One development that appears to have embarrassed the party high command is the outcry against the prominence being given to “outsiders” who had crossed over to the Congress.

Many among the Congress faithful feel that leaders defecting from other parties are too readily given official posts or election tickets despite their ideological commitments being “suspect”.

This long-suppressed feeling erupted during the debate on organisational matters yesterday when Uttar Pradesh legislator Naseeb Pathan defied seniors to attack party general secretary Madhusudan Mistry.

Mistry was responding to fellow general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi’s view that inductees from other parties should not be given poll tickets or party posts for at least three years. Dwivedi said there was resentment among party workers on this matter.

Mistry rebutted him, saying such a restriction would weaken the party by discouraging leaders from outside from joining the Congress.

Pathan got up and bluntly countered Mistry, ignoring attempts by senior leaders and group chairman Ghulam Nabi Azad to dissuade him.

“Soniaji talks of discipline and one general secretary is undermining another,” Pathan said. “Mistryji has come from the Jan Sangh and does not know the Congress. We have several such examples: even P. Chidambaram came from outside and became finance minister.”

Chidambaram, who was present and is now the top Congress strategist, remained silent. Those who came from outside and occupied key positions in the Congress include Mohan Prakash, Jaipal Reddy, Sanjay Nirupam and Raj Babbar.