The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia’s new plank to fight BJP

New Delhi, Feb. 1: The Congress and the Left parties today launched a new forum — the Peoples’ Integration Council — to combat communalism and counter the BJP.

The Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the two pillars of the former third front, were, however, missing at the inaugural session of the two-day convention.

The council’s convener, senior Congress leader Arjun Singh, said: “We will announce our strategy tomorrow — a strategy that will take us to the people.” Singh said the Samajwadi is expected to send its representative Amar Singh to the convention tomorrow. It was, however, not clear why RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav was not present.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi launched a frontal attack on the ruling BJP. “The country today is facing a threat not just from terrorists across the border but also a threat from within, coming from those who have no regard for rules, conventions of democratic discourse. Their commitment to the Constitution is under question,” she said.

“No doubt the primary responsibility for protecting, preserving and promoting social peace is that of the government. But civil society and its institutions like the Peoples’ Council have a key role to play, especially when the state becomes blatantly partisan,” stressed Sonia.

It is almost one year since violence exploded in Gujarat. During this period, political parties have concentrated more on raising the issue in Parliament rather than hitting the streets. Leaders at the convention today said it was high time they interacted with the people rather than carry on deliberations within the four walls.

“The task ahead of us is daunting. Political parties will have to play a key role but the role of peoples organisations will also be crucial,” the Congress chief said.

The council could turn out to be yet another incarnation of a third front which fell apart after Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav went his own way on the Presidential elections. Its organisers emphasised that the council would use all the cultural resources at its command to wage a war against communalism and the BJP.

“Our message must be loud and clear that communalism, fundamentalism and fanaticism of any kind is unacceptable. The law must deal without fear or favour with any organisation or individual — irrespective of religion — responsible for sectarian, divisive and hate-filled acts and propaganda,” Sonia said.

In the aftermath of the Gujarat elections, the Congress had borne the brunt of an attack from the Left Front for carrying out a “soft Hindutva” campaign — a campaign that failed to make any dent among voters. Sonia today attempted to make her party’s position clear on the issue. “Our fight is not against religion. It cannot be. Our confrontation is not against the practice of religion but against its political misuse,” she said. “Individuals have a religion. The state does not have one. The only religion for the state is economic growth, human development and social empowerment.”

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