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Since 1st March, 1999
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Ethics code on Sonia, Singh menu

If BJP conventions were once obsessed with Ram, this Congress plenary is all about Sita. Or, as she is known in local parlance, Seethamma.
Huge hoardings and cutouts (PTI picture) scream just one message everywhere in the city: that Sonia Gandhi’s “sacrifice” of refusing the Prime Minister’s post is unparalleled.
For that act of renunciation, almost every hoarding and cutout salutes the Congress president as “Seethamma” and “Thyagamurthi” (model of sacrifice).
The BJP is furious, its leader N. Indrasena Reddy claiming that such a comparison is an “insult” to Ram’s wife. Not all the tributes are to bigwigs: a statue of a “liberated hand” that Sonia will unveil has the names of hundreds of freedom fighters — all Congress members from Andhra Pradesh — inscribed on its base.
Late Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao has won a surprise honour: his portrait hangs against the backdrop to the plenary platform at Rajiv Nagar. Jagjivan Ram, who broke away from the party and formed the Congress for Democracy after Emergency, also finds a place.

Our special correspondent

New Delhi, Jan. 20: With the Volcker and Quattrocchi scandals fresh on their minds, Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh are expected to lecture delegates on the need for ethics and transparency in public life at the Hyderabad plenary that starts tomorrow.

A senior party leader made it clear that none of the speakers would bring up either controversy on their own. But if delegates raise the issues and seek clarifications, “there will be no attempt to be shy or apologetic”.

“At a gathering as large as this, no party will allow the proceedings to get bogged down by a specific issue. Nothing will be explained suo motu. The Congress president and the Prime Minister will speak of much larger issues like transparency and the need for a code of ethics,” the leader added.

On Volcker, Congress sources held up the government’s promptness in setting up two investigations, one by a retired diplomat and the other by a former chief justice. Also, K. Natwar Singh, named in the UN report on the Iraqi oil-for-food scam, had to step down as foreign minister.

On the defreezing of Bofors accused Ottavio Quattrocchi’s London bank accounts, the sources repeated the arguments Sonia had placed before CPM leader Sitaram Yechury on Tuesday.

One, the government had no “advance knowledge” of the CBI’s decision to ask the Crown Prosecution Service to defreeze the accounts. Two, there was no political pressure on any investigating agency. Three, the Bofors case had dragged on too long and needed to be laid to rest.

Sources close to the Prime Minister denied he had been “kept in the dark” about the CBI decision. They explained that Singh had a hands-off approach towards the CBI or any other autonomous agency.

“Suppose the Prime Minister had reacted instantly; the Opposition would immediately have alleged that he knew everything and had influenced the decision. It was only after a thorough briefing that the Prime Minister made his statement in Guwahati (on January 16),” a source said.

“He made it crystal clear that the CBI’s moves relating to both the freezing and the de-freezing of these accounts came following consultations with law officials in keeping with established procedure.

“The accounts were frozen during the NDA’s time. When the BJP accused the Prime Minister of being ignorant, were the spokespersons suggesting that their government was pro-active and had influenced the CBI to freeze the accounts'”

Following Sonia’s directive that party members should practise austerity in all spheres of life, the Hyderabad plenary was expected to be shorn of razzmatazz.

The 12,000-odd delegates, including the party brass and cabinet ministers (barring those covered by special security), will be put up in hostels, schools and apartments close to the venue, Rajiv Nagar, which is 25 km from the city.

The venue was chosen because neither Sonia nor the Prime Minister wanted the event to affect everyday life in Hyderabad.

Both Singh and Sonia have been booked at three different places, including the Raj Bhavan, but sources said they would most probably be put up in an apartment complex close to the stadium.

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