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Pep talk for Cong flock

- Singh and Sonia defend UPA II performance

New Delhi, Dec. 18: Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi have exhorted Congress MPs not to be disheartened by the negative propaganda and the electoral debacles, the call coming at the close of the winter session this evening.

This was the last full session in the life of the current 15th Lok Sabha, with the government moving into election mode and an expected vote-on-account in February being seen as only a technicality.

Both the Prime Minister and the Congress chief said a lot had been done despite constraints and failures, confronting suggestions that the UPA II’s track record was a baggage to be thrown away.

After the defeat in the Assembly elections earlier this month, a large number of Congress MPs felt the need for a drastic change, including replacing Singh.

But Sonia’s unambiguous backing of the Prime Minister and Singh’s aggressive defence of his government convinced the MPs that no such overhaul was in the offing, though the scope for projecting another candidate for the next Prime Minister was still alive.

A party strategist said: “If we change the Prime Minister at this stage, this would mean we accept the charges of policy paralysis and misgovernance. We believe our achievements are good enough and we only need to communicate better.”

Singh and Sonia were speaking at a customary end-of-the-session meeting of the Congress parliamentary party, or its MPs. The Prime Minister usually doesn’t address such meetings. Sonia alone does.

But Singh spoke today, responding to every criticism and asserting that “our past record establishes our credibility for future action”. He touched on several issues, from the corporate sector’s disenchantment over lack of reforms to the frustration of the middle class over corruption, from inflation to the perception of weak leadership.

“It is important to reflect why we get less credit for our achievements than perhaps they deserve. The answer is that rapid economic growth, social change and political empowerment of the last decade has given rise to new aspirations,” the Prime Minister said.

The image was not of a defensive Singh trying to run away from aggressive rival Narendra Modi. What’s more, he had his party’s supreme leader firmly behind him.

Sonia slammed the Opposition for “making vituperative and baseless personal attacks on all of us, including the Prime Minister”.

“Let us all go from here mindful of the challenges ahead but also mindful of the fact that no odds are insurmountable for a party such as ours, for a party with our legacy, with our history and with our track record of achievement,” she said.

Without naming the BJP or Modi, she declared that “their ideology is illiberal and will prevent the continuing modernisation and emancipation of our country and our people”.

The Prime Minister also did not name Modi but ripped into his promises. “Simplistic slogans will not provide workable solutions. We need to handle issues with subtlety and sophistication. And we need to do it with humility.”