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Sonia asks party to say ‘thank you’ to PM

New Delhi, May 13: Congress president Sonia Gandhi has intervened to stop senior leaders from laying the blame for possible defeat at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s door, insisting it would be a collective failure to project the government’s achievements and confront the propaganda on corruption.

As murmurs were heard in some circles about “lack of leadership” in the government and the Prime Minister’s absence from the electoral scene, Sonia told leaders not to drift into a blame game in this hour of crisis.

While she will host a farewell lunch for the Prime Minister and his cabinet tomorrow, Sonia ensured that the party today formally expressed its gratitude to Singh.

“Singh’s experienced and seasoned stewardship, his personal integrity and ability to lead the country through difficult times are noteworthy and India is proud to have earned so many laurels and respect during the 10 years,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

“The party deeply appreciates the able stewardship of the Prime Minister during UPA-I and UPA-II when we carved out a trajectory and a path of clear inclusive growth, stability and social harmony in the country,” he continued.

The Congress expressed “gratitude and heartfelt thanks” to the Prime Minister and his team and wished him “good health and happiness”.

Sonia has often asked party leaders to strongly defend the 10-year UPA regime, arguing it had remarkable achievements. She felt compelled to intervene now as a section of leaders had begun arguing that the government had left a pitiable legacy, which could not have been defended in the election.

Many senior leaders, including some general secretaries, blame UPA ministers for doing little to fight the negative impression building for the past two-three years. While they concede that the party’s own communication had failed, they hold the government primarily responsible.

While the Congress does not believe the exit poll projections, it is bracing for huge losses and exit from power. This will create new pressures on the leadership in this transition phase, when Rahul Gandhi is taking over from Sonia, but there is little possibility of a revolt as is being suggested by BJP leaders. If the results are poor, he might though be forced to accommodate senior leaders.

Already, there is an effort to insulate Rahul from criticism. Leaders have begun to make a case that certain other factors were responsible for the defeat and his leadership cannot be faulted.

Exit poll

Congress minister and party strategist Jairam Ramesh, while rejecting the exit poll results, today alleged that the BJP did not play by the rules in the election.

The BJP adopted Bodyline, he said, referring to the physically threatening cricketing tactic used by English bowlers against Don Bradman. Ramesh cited the communal polarisation in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, as an example and also alleged the BJP had spent an “astronomical amount” on the campaign.

“This level of spending is obscene. Our level of spending is peanuts compared to Modi’s,” Ramesh said, calling for poll expenditure audit.

He, however, rejected the predictions of an NDA majority and said: “The Congress will work towards a stable, secular and cohesive government at the Centre.”

Ramesh, who has often said people should retire from active politics after 60, said he was open to retiring since he had turned 60 last month. “Youngsters should come into politics. Senior leaders having experience and knowledge can contribute to the party,” he said.