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Sonia launches 'mukt' missiles

MOTHER’S DAY: Amid a standing ovation, Sonia Gandhi heads to her seat after finishing her speech but runs into Rahul, who locks her in a hug at the AICC plenary in New Delhi on Saturday. Pictures by Prem Singh

New Delhi: As the next big battle draws closer, an emphatic riposte to the "Congress- mukt Bharat" came from Sonia Gandhi.

An India free of the fear of the rulers. An India free of discrimination. An India free of vengeance. An India free of the wails of the suffering....

Sonia repeatedly played on the word " mukt (free of)" - Narendra Modi's signature theme that promises to rid the country of her party - as she served up a counter to the agenda set by the BJP leadership.

Those who talk of making India Congress- mukt do not know how strong a bond still exists between the people and the party, Sonia said in a spirited speech that stole the show on the first day of the AICC plenary here on Saturday.

"In the last four years, the arrogant government, intoxicated by power, didn't spare any effort to destroy the Congress," Sonia, who had recently stepped down as party president, said.

" Sham-dam dand-bhed ka khula khel chal raha hai (They are brazenly deploying every trick: money, might, coercion, discrimination). But the Congress has neither bowed to the arrogance of power, nor will it ever do."

Amid frenzied clapping, she added: "Every Congressman should be prepared to sacrifice anything for the making of an India that is not frightened by the terror of a reckless government. We want an India where every individual's dignity is protected, a pakshpat-mukt Bharat, pratishodh-mukt Bharat, hahakaar-mukt Bharat (an India free of discrimination, vengeance and the cries of the suffering)."

Apart from giving her two standing ovations, the plenary passed a special resolution expressing gratitude to Sonia for leading the party through a crisis-ridden period.

Although the prime agenda on Saturday was to project Rahul Gandhi's leadership, Sonia's stature as the Opposition's biggest political asset got reaffirmed again.

"People have realised now that the slogans of 2014 - Sabka saath, sabka vikas (support and development for all) and na khaoonga, na khane dunga (will never take bribes, nor let anyone) - and Narendra Modi's Mann Ki Baat on radio were only dramabazi and ploys to capture votes and the chair," Sonia said bluntly.

"The Congress has conclusively exposed the Modi government's autocratic ways, violations of the constitutional scheme, disrespect of Parliament, divisive politics, vindictive attitude and coercion of the media."

She exhorted the party to try and reclaim its pre-eminent position and set the socio-political agenda of the country. She urged senior politicians to rise above ambition and ego and work together with Rahul, who she said had taken the party's "responsibility under the most challenging circumstances".

Rahul, who will deliver his main speech on Sunday, said in his opening remarks: "The Congress thrives in harmony, the BJP in discord. The BJP is spreading anger and dividing India, instigating one individual to fight another. The Congress has to unite India and only we can do this."

While the focus is on youth in a time of transition for the party, Rahul tried to assuage any fears the elders might harbour.

"In our tradition, change does not mean you forget the past. Younger leaders are to take the Congress forward but they can't do it without the blessings of senior, experienced leaders. My job is to act as a link between the old and the new," he said.

Youth power was in full evidence at the plenary. General secretary Janardan Dwivedi, who had conducted the proceedings for decades, was nowhere to be seen, his job assigned to younger politicians like Nadeem Javed from Uttar Pradesh and Ragini Nayak from Delhi.

While veterans like Amarinder Singh, P.C. Siddaramaiah and Kamal Nath did get a chance to speak, the daylong deliberations were dominated by younger delegates like Shashi Tharoor, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Rajiv Satav, Sushmita Dev, Paresh Dhanani, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Amarinder Singh Raja Brar and Fairoz Khan, among others.

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