The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia packs Rajiv’s punch
Target: pelf and parivar

New Delhi, Aug. 21: Sonia Gandhi has arrived, in Rajiv Gandhi style.

Nineteen years after her late husband stunned the top rung gathered for the special Congress centenary session in Mumbai with his attack on an entrenched “power-broker” culture in the party, Sonia today condemned blatant display of money power.

“We live amongst the poor who lead a difficult life. We talk about the problem of poverty. But we ourselves practise an ostentatious lifestyle and indulge in vulgar display of wealth. We, who take inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, should not be adopting this kind of double standard. We must introspect and lead a public life that is marked by simplicity and honesty,” the Congress president said to prolonged applause.

Rajiv Gandhi had launched his attack at the April 1985 session after he was armed with a massive mandate — 400-plus seats in the Lok Sabha — in elections held the previous December.

Standing head and shoulders above the rest at a daylong special session of the All India Congress Committee in the capital, Sonia today wielded the moral authority she has acquired by renouncing prime ministership. In her opening address, the party chief censured the top brass for not taking her suggestion to follow a “code of ethics” seriously.

“Two years ago, I sent some suggestions regarding a code of ethics to chief ministers and pradesh Congress committees. But it appears that the suggestion has remained only on paper. This is disturbing,” she said.

The Congress president stressed that people from ordinary homes should get a chance in the party, noting that prosperous and established families have an advantage while promoting their children. She also came down on men ruling as de facto sarpanchs in villages after their wives get elected in seats reserved for women.

Sonia salutes the party flag at the AICC meeting. (PTI)

Sonia, in her 45-minute speech, set the tone for her colleagues by launching an ideological and political offensive against the RSS and the BJP. She also outlined the priorities of the Congress-led government at the Centre.

Accusing the Sangh parivar of trying to wreck national unity by spreading communalism, the Congress president said its target has been to run down leaders of the Independence movement and weaken social harmony.

Sonia said there would be no let-up in the political and ideological battle against the forces of communalism. The fight between the Congress and the BJP was not just electoral. It was a confrontation between the Congress’ inclusive, liberal, secular nationalism and the BJP’s narrow nationalism based on fundamentalism and communal hatred, she said.

Expressing confidence that the Congress-led coalition government would succeed, Sonia pointed out that though the experiment was new to the party, “we have adjusted easily, proving our opponents and critics wrong”.

On a personal note, she thanked partymen for accepting her decision to turn down prime ministership. In Manmohan Singh, the country has a Prime Minister of “great learning, vast administrative experience and impeccable reputation”, she said.

To a loud applause, Sonia emphasised the primacy of the party over government. “It is the party that works to win elections and form government,” she said but added that both needed the other for their success and called for better interaction between the two.


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