Battling a series of allegations, a combative Congress sought to regain lost political ground at a mass rally in Delhi on Sunday with a resolve to go on the offensive on its economic agenda and the fight against corruption.
The rally at Ramlila ground — billed as a show of strength by the Congress — was organised to counter the Opposition’s volley of corruption charges and stand against recent economic reforms, including allowing FDI in retail and scaling down subsidies.
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“Those who are talking about corruption are themselves neck-deep in corruption,” Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said.
Political commentators said the rally was held to hard-sell some of the unpopular economic decisions of the government.
“This is the first time the Congress has openly supported its economic reforms at a public rally. Sonia Gandhi was quick to oppose FDI in 2004,” said political analyst Zoya Hasan. “Some of these decisions might prove to be unpopular in the end.”
For the Congress, the rally was a grand success — evident from the big turnout.
But, the Opposition was quick to trash it. Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said the rally was intended to create false bravado when the Congress had failed on the financial and clean governance fronts.
The Congress chief, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi listed out the UPA government’s achievements, defended economic reforms and attacked the Opposition on corruption and for disrupting Parliament.
“Jo dusre ke liye gaddha khodta hai, uske liye kuan tayyar rehta hai (one who digs a pit for others doesn’t realise a well is ready for him too),” Sonia said.
Without going into specific allegations of corruption levelled against her party, the government or her family, she said, “Nowadays, there is a storm created by some news reports. Various allegations are made against the government and party. There is a need to discern the truth and untruth of these charges… We will give a fitting reply.”
Calling corruption a “cancer and a disease” that hurt the poor, the Congress chief pledged to fight all charges against the party and punish the guilty.
The rally also marked the coming of age of the Congress' liberalisation politics with all three star speakers emphasising economic reforms. "I want to ask a question to those who are criticising our government. Have you till now run such a government?" Sonia asked.
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On his part, the PM explained the rationale behind the government's initiatives. "We need economic reforms to create more jobs... The people are being misled about our decisions," he said.
This was the second time in the past 43 days since his September 21 address to the nation that Singh told the people that hard economic decisions were dictated by tougher times. Sonia and Rahul backed him, dispelling any impression that the Congress had second thoughts on any of these measures.
"I know it very well that the common man, particularly the poor, have to bear the brunt of price rise. I understand it fully well. It is our endeavour to remove difficulties…we were forced to take some harsh decisions," the Congress chief added.