| Sonia Gandhi at the rally with party leaders Mohsina Kidwai and Manmohan Singh. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, March 30: The Congress today virtually put the BJP-led NDA government on notice as it launched an aggressive campaign to recapture power at the Centre in a near-perfect Sunday morning rally at the Ramlila ground in the capital, pledging to make party chief Sonia Gandhi the next Prime Minister.
It was a rally that will inspire the party leadership under Sonia as it seeks to step up the momentum of its campaign to end the Congress’ longest spell out of power at the Centre. The crowd was one of the largest Ramlila Maidan has witnessed in recent years, and enthusiastic.
It was inspiring enough for Sonia to join the crowd at the end of the brief rally in singing the song underlining unity and determination to fight their way out of adversity: “Hum honge kaamiyab, hum honge kaamiyab.”
The slogans at the Desh Bachao rally — as it was christened — underlined both the party’s purpose and strategy. “Sonia Gandhi karo taiyaari; fail ho gaye hain Atal Bihari” went one. “Chalegi Sonia, udegi dhul; na rahega NDA, na rahega phool (BJP’s Lotus symbol)” read another.
Then there were those meant to woo the weaker and poorer sections, like “Congress ke haath, garib ke saath”. Under NDA rule, “Garib ki thali, bilkul khali,” said the gathering. If these were not enough, Sonia gave more slogans during her brief but combative speech.
But before the party chief fired her guns, the rally managers fielded many of her lieutenants to set the stage. It was a consciously chosen list: Ashok Gehlot, Digvijay Singh and Ajit Jogi, chief ministers of the three Assembly poll-bound states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of Delhi — another poll-bound Congress state — was prominent as the host.
The Congress chief took the mike amid shouts of “Sonia zindabad” from the crowd but, in her brief 15-minute speech, did not say anything that she had not said while inaugurating the convention of district and block Congress presidents on Friday.
It was a definitive assertion on her party that she would not be provoked by the BJP leadership to deviate from her chosen line of campaign.
Just yesterday, while speaking at a rally to mark the completion of five years in power, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had challenged her to spell out the Congress stand on coalition politics. Today, Sonia ignored the Vajpayee bait.
She said the NDA government had failed on all fronts. The BJP had promised to eliminate “bhay, bhook and brashtachar”. But now the sense of insecurity has increased under the growing menace of terrorism, she said.
Asserting that national security was the sole responsibility of the Centre, Sonia said the country had witnessed terrorist attacks on its Parliament, Akshardham, Raghunath temples and other major attacks, like Kaluchak, under the BJP rule. The country would never forget the spectacle of its foreign minister accompanying three dreaded terrorists to safety in Kandahar, she added.
The leader of the Opposition also criticised the NDA’s record on the economic front. The problem of unemployment among the youth, she said, was becoming acute at a time when the government was busy disinvesting PSUs.
The government was “cruel” to the farmers. While the farmers, despite the severe drought, helped fill the godowns to capacity, the NDA rewarded them by increasing the price of urea, the Congress chief said.
Ridiculing the NDA government, she said it was most successful on one front — corruption. “It is a government of scandals. PSUs have been sold at throwaway prices. Scams have taken place even in the purchase of coffins for jawans,” she said. But most important, Sonia pointed out, at a time when the country needed national unity to fight externally sponsored terrorism, the BJP and other Sangh parivar outfits were systematically dividing the nation on communal lines.