The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia raises Gujarat pitch

Chandigarh, Nov. 23: Congress president Sonia Gandhi today appealed to the people of Gujarat to “throw out” the “communal” BJP government and elect her party to usher in an era of peace and development.

“Some parties and irresponsible organisations have decided to create a wedge between communities. Such elements are being supported not only by politicians but also by governments,” Sonia said in a strongly-worded speech, cheered by a mammoth crowd at the sports stadium here. “We have to garner all our strength to fight against such forces and ensure that the conspiracy to break the nation does not succeed.”

Sonia, who was addressing the party’s north zone convention of ex-servicemen, said the mayhem in Gujarat was part of a plan to create similar disturbed conditions all over the country. “Woh ek tarah se shuruwat thi (It could have been the beginning). But I am happy the communal elements met with no success outside Gujarat. The people of Gujarat have understood their game plan. I am confident that in the Assembly polls, the people of Gujarat will give a fitting reply to the BJP and allied organisations and elect the Congress.”

The Congress president said the atmosphere of hatred, violence and insecurity has affected Gujarat’s economic development and added that it was the responsibility of all citizens to help uproot communal forces.

Sonia said the NDA government has failed on all fronts in the three years it has been in power. “This is a corrupt government and one of false slogans and false promises.” She told her audience she could feel the pain of ex-servicemen during Tehelka and coffin scams. “I don’t want to go into the other scams of the NDA government,” she added. “The list is very long.”

“What is good governance' It is all about providing relief to people. They (the BJP-led government) have nothing to show on this front. We should draw inspiration from soldiers who sacrifice their lives at borders,” she said and promised to pursue the demands of ex-servicemen with the government.

Sonia later honoured the family members of six soldiers who were decorated with gallantry awards, including the Victoria Cross, for sacrificing their lives while defending the country’s frontiers.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, who also spoke on the occasion, said his government would not tolerate anyone playing with the dignity of retired soldiers. He demanded that pensions of soldiers should be substantially raised and the one-rank one-pension norm implemented immediately.

Earlier in the day, at a closed-door meeting, Sonia asked party workers to strengthen the organisation. “Efforts must be made to make the party strong at all levels. If the party is weak, it affects the government too,” she said, adding that dissidence within the party should not end up becoming a game of one-upmanship.

“Everyone should learn from the seniors. The seniors, too, should allow the juniors to rise in the party hierarchy. We should all have faith in the party,” the Congress chief said.

The Congress chief urged party workers to carry on the tradition laid down by Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. “We must follow the path shown by them,” she said. “We have to work for the people and strive to make their lives better.”

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