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'General' Sonia fields party infantry to take on Oppn

The speech Sonia Gandhi delivered at the AICC plenary on Sunday wasn't that of a leader beleaguered. Vinod Sharma reports.

delhi Updated: Dec 20, 2010 00:13 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times

The speech Sonia Gandhi delivered at the AICC plenary on Sunday wasn't that of a leader beleaguered.

She addressed delegates in the manner of a General exhorting her foot soldiers to action.

She struck a chord with them by chiding subaltern ranks that wield political power, for losing connect with the party's infantry.

"The ordinary worker is our ear on the ground, our hand on the pulse of the common man," she said. "Where we are in office, whether at the Centre or in states, let it not be forgotten that it's the party that has made the government. It's the primary responsibility of those in office to be sensitive to voices coming from party organisation and ranks."

Sonia's comments found an echo in Rahul Gandhi's intervention. Together, they recognised the need to rejuvenate the party, to co-opt workers to reconnect with the people and beat back the Opposition's onslaught at the grassroots.

It was perhaps for this reason that the Congress president did not name the Sangh Parivar while underscoring the terrorist dimension of communally driven majority and minority community outfits. Pointed references to the BJP-RSS were restricted to the political resolution, giving the battle a wider, organisational dimension. That should insulate the apex leadership from personal attacks as witnessed in the wake of documents revealed by WikiLeaks on Rahul's conversation with the US envoy.

Sonia's spirited defence of Manmohan Singh was in a similar vein. Assuring him of the party's unwavering support, she asked Congressmen to mobilise opinion again the BJP's "despicable" attack on the Premier who embodied "sobriety, dignity and integrity".

Her 30-minute address was all encompassing, touching upon issues that bedeviled the Congress or brought it accolades. Terrorism, corruption, communalism, the Maoist threat, inflation, organisational contradictions, high economic growth, it had it all; the focus being on charges of sleaze that have lately taken the sheen off the UPA's second term.

Sonia dwelt on corruption in the English part of the address. The attempt ostensibly was to reach out to the urban electorate, including those in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where both Congress and BJP have a lot to explain. And in doing so, she put forth a six-point action plan to fight sleaze, profligacy and misuse of discretionary powers: state funding of elections; time-bound closure of corruption cases; transparency in procurements and award of contracts; making Congress chief ministers and ministers relinquish discretionary powers in land allocation; open competitive system for access to natural resources and a taboo on vulgar display of wealth by party leaders.

It's the PM's turn to address the plenary on Monday. Will be interesting to watch how he takes forward his party chief's plan to combat sleaze and reduce the gap between the government and its interface with the people — the much-ignored party worker.

First Published: Dec 20, 2010 00:10 IST