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Sonia raises war cry, party mumbles

New Delhi, Aug. 13: Sonia Gandhi today exhorted Congress MPs to resist the “authoritarian and sectarian tendencies of the new government” but, hours later in the Lok Sabha, the party failed to corner the BJP on communal violence.

Rahul Gandhi, who brought the rising number of communal incidents into focus by shouting slogans in the well, did not participate in the debate. Mallikarjun Kharge offered a feeble and incoherent critique of the Sangh parivar’s role as BJP’s Yogi Adityanath forcefully spoke of Hindu-bashing by secular forces.

A Congress leader rued: “It was as if we created a platform for the BJP to further its communal agenda. The yogi’s vitriol on secularism and the charge that secular forces were working on Pakistani agenda were not countered effectively.

“It was a pathetic show and the leadership needs to seriously introspect on the striking difference between the party’s performances in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.”

But Congress president Sonia expressed satisfaction, arguing that the party was functioning effectively in Parliament. Addressing party MPs this morning, she said: “The process of rebuilding and restoring the confidence of the public in the Congress has begun.

“Our work in Parliament is the foundation of this process. This is where we show our commitment to defending our democracy against those who wish to make it an instrument of their narrow political agendas.”

Sonia’s views are not in tune with the dominant sentiment in the party, which is astounded by the poor show in the Lok Sabha compared to the combative posturing in the Rajya Sabha.

Most leaders agree that this is not simply because of numerical weakness and point to bad planning by and attitude problems of the leadership. Many MPs considered Veerappa Moily’s speech on the judicial commission bill mediocre.

Sonia’s criticism of communalism at the morning meeting was sharper and more focused. She said: “Already since the BJP has come to power there has been an alarming increase in the number of incidents of communal violence.

“In addition, there have been other subtle but pernicious signals of intolerance. I do not wish to go into details —you are all aware of the atrocious behaviour of some BJP legislators and the unacceptable views expressed by others in complete disregard of our time-honoured secular traditions and constitutional propriety.”

She added: “Let us be clear: there is a great deal of concern throughout the country, particularly among women and minorities, the poor, about whether the BJP and its sister organisations mean to work for all of India’s communities, or whether they seek to profit from dividing the nation on sectarian lines.

“In my mind, I have no doubt about the answer. We have been told that the motto of this government is ‘minimum government, maximum governance.’ It seems that what we have instead is minimum governance to protect the aam aadmi, maximum government to amass power in the hands of the BJP. This is the tendency we must resist with all our strength.”

Had Sonia or Rahul spoken with such clarity in the House, the issue of communal violence would have acquired much greater importance and the government may not have tried to belittle the debate through Yogi Adityanath’s strident rhetoric.

Sonia also ridiculed the Modi government of stealing the Congress’s ideas, claiming it had nothing new to offer.

“The government has passed a budget that breaks little or no new ground. They have paid us the tribute of imitating and extending, if not strengthening, a number of Congress programmes and initiatives that they had vehemently attacked when they were in Opposition,” she said.

“The new government now supports the proposed goods and services tax, sugar subsidies, railway and diesel price hikes, FDI in insurance, Aadhaar scheme and other key UPA budget measures, all of which they had bitterly — and, if I might add, hypocritically — denounced, obstructed and prevented progress on when they were where we are today.”

She added: “They even tried to prevent a discussion on Gaza in Parliament and then ended up voting at the United Nations Human Rights Council just as the UPA would have.

“They have also, finally, seen the wisdom of our government’s initiative in trying to reach a land boundary agreement with Bangladesh which, you will recollect, they had refused to support last year.

“They attacked us without principles and they are now governing us without policies. Well, they are welcome to steal our ideas. They are welcome to borrow our programmes. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”