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Congress plenary session: Rahul admits last UPA govt failed expectations; Manmohan, Chidambaram train guns on NDA govt for messing up economy

The conclave was divided into two parts. Firstly, there was a steering or subject committee meeting held in Delhi’s Constitution Club. Two resolutions, one political and one related to agriculture, were discussed to be presented in the plenary. The second part was the two-day open session.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 18, 2018 4:57:26 pm
Rahul Gandhi at the 84th Congress plenary session in New Delhi on Sunday.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi in his address to the Congress’ 84th plenary session on Sunday launched a scathing attack against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP and his NDA government but admitted that the last UPA government fell short of people’s expectations.

Earlier on the third day of Congress’s 84th plenary session in New Delhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took a dig at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government and accused it of messing up the economy as well as mismanaging Jammu and Kashmir. Senior Congress leaders such as former finance minister P Chidambaram and Anand Sharma also joined Singh in their criticisms of the BJP government’s economic and foreign policy, among other things.

This is the first plenary session of the party after Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as AICC president. Gandhi, in his address, said that the Congress was “the voice of a nation” while the BJP was the “voice of an organisation.”

Speaking about the current numbers enjoyed by BJP in the country’s parliaments and legislatures, Gandhi compared the BJP and Congress to the Kauravas and Pandavas, respectively, from the epic Mahabharata. “Centuries ago, there was huge battle on the field of Kurukshetra. The Kauravas were powerful and arrogant. The Pandavas were humble and fought for the truth. Like the Kauravas, the BJP and the RSS are designed to fight for power, like the Pandavas, Congress is designed to fight for truth. Will India live a lie or will India have the courage to face the truth? Today, the corrupt and powerful control the conversation in the country,” Gandhi said.   Congress Plenary Session LIVE UPDATES

Admitting the shortcomings of his party’s previous government at the Centre, he said, “I don’t say it with happiness but the last govt we formed did not stand up to the expectations of the people. The people of the country were let down by us.”

However, the Congress chief kept his speech focussed on the theme of “truth and justice” while touching upon issues like GST. “The PM diverts our attention and jumps from one event to another from Gabbar Singh tax (a dig at the Goods and Services Tax) to yoga in Parliament but never talks about the issues. But, the Congress cannot be stopped from seeking the truth and justice,” he said.

Gandhi’s speech also touched minority issues, ‘belongingness’, linguistic nationalisism and hypernationalism while suggesting these issues are pushed by a certain group. “They tell Muslims of India who never went to Pakistan and supported this great nation that you don’t belong here. They tell the Tamils change your beautiful language, they tell people of northeast we don’t like what you eat, tell women to dress properly.”

In what could arguably be one of his most direct attacks on PM Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, he said: “What does Modi actually mean? The name Modi symbolises the collusion between India’s biggest crony capitalists and the prime minister of India. They (people) will accept a man accused of murder as the President of the BJP, but they will never ever accept the same in the Congress Party because they hold Congress in the highest regard. Congress will take the country forward, but we are humans, we make mistakes. Modi ji thinks he is not human but an incarnation of God.”

The killings of journalish Gauri Lankesh and rationalist scholar and teacher MM Kalburgi was a matter of concern raised by the Congress president. “They told Gauri Lankesh and Kalburgi, question s and you will die. They tell our honest businessmen to shut up and allow corrupt officers to extort their hard-earned money. They tell our farmers to work for nothing.”

One of the biggest criticisms of the Congress party in recent years has been the disconnect between leaders and party workers. Gandhi said that he intends to tackle this problem promptly with a structural change in the party. “We have to change Congress. There is a wall between our leaders and workers. My first task will be to break that wall. I will consult senior leaders to destroy that wall with love,” he said.

Hitting out at Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and raising the vast number of financial frauds in the country, Gandhi said, “You can steal Rs 33,000 crore from the banks and the BJP government will protect you. Finance Minister will go silent because he and his daughter work for crony capitalists.”

Raising the recent supreme court’s institutional crisis and claiming there was a general environment of intimidation at large, Gandhi said, “BJP has spread fear. People from press are scared, for the first time we saw four Supreme Court judges running to the public for justice.There is a difference between the RSS and Congress, we respect the country’s institutions whereas they want to finish them. They only want one institution, that is RSS.”

During his address in the plenary, Singh laid out his criticism of the Modi government. Describing the demonetisation decision as “ill-considered” and GST rollout as “hastily implemented”, Singh said, “The BJP-led government messed up the Indian economy. The ill-considered demonetisation and hastily implemented GST have destroyed small scale enterprises.”

Chidambaram presented the party’s economic resolution in the conclave invoking his and Sonia Gandhi’s long association and service to the party. “Many thought I would not stand here to speak to you, present economic resolution. But I am here because I draw my strength from each one of you. There is a steel instilled in me from 45 years of my association with the Congress. I have seen Sonia Gandhi leading party 20 years  and that helped the steel in me to grow. The current phase of economic growth started in 1990s when Rajiv Gandhi sowed seeds of liberalisation. This gained momentum under Dr Manmohan Singh. Whatever the BJP, the NDA may say, records speak for itself.”

Chidambaram’s words resonated with Singh when he said that there “cannot be a greater lie than demonetisation”. Discrediting the note-ban move, he also slammed RBI officials for their failure in counting the returned currency on time and in a satirical comment said they should take help from the “Hundi collectors in Tirupati” to count faster.

Speaking on Jammu and Kashmir, the former PM said the government of the day had “mismanaged” the issue “like never before” and the state’s atmosphere was “deteriorating day by day”.  Congress Plenary Session: Projecting younger face, Congress takes a step closer to alliances

The former PM, who was responsible for India’s economic liberalisation in the 1990s, dismissed Modi government’s policies regarding job creation and doubling of farmers’ income. “When Modi ji was campaigning he made lots of tall promises, those promises have not been fulfilled. He said we will provide 2 crore jobs, we have not seen even 2 lakh jobs. Modi said farmers’ income will be doubled in 6 years; it is a jumla-type statement unlikely to be achieved,” he said.

Listing out the achievements of his UPA government, Chidambaram said that it was only the Congress party that could bring India out of the prevalent economic crisis.

“Only Congress party can take the country out of the economic crisis. I am saying this not because of arrogance, but because we have done it before and can do it again.It’s the biggest achievement of Dr Manmohan Singh that 14 crore people were listed out of poverty. BJP govt pushed people into poverty. The number of people below poverty line went up. It’s the greatest disservice BJP govt did to the people of India,” Chidambaram said, adding “The Modi Govt inherited a strong economy. The task of development has to be continued by future generations. However, today, the Indian economy is decoupled from the world economy which is growing.”

Singh, on the other hand, iterated that the Congress-led UPA governments had achieved a lot under the guidance of then party president Sonia Gandhi and said that the plenary session will lay down the future roadmap for the country and the Congress party will play a “historic” role in the same.

Chidambaram told party members that under the new leadership and with the help of allies, it will come back to power. “Spread the word that a new young dynamic leadership has taken over the Congress party. We will come back to power with friends and allies,” he said.

The theme of the plenary session is “Waqt hai badlav ka (it’s time for change)” indicating the parties resolve to back the shift heralded under the leadership of new president Rahul Gandhi.

Senior party leader Anand Sharma, who addressed the gathering earlier in the day, said the Narendra Modi-led Central government had disrupted India’s foreign policy and made it a “divisive policy”. “In the last four years, they have made this a divisive policy. They have pursued this in a cavalier manner. It is a matter of concern that we have mismanaged our relations with major world capitals, major strategic partners, and our neighbours.”

Meanwhile, on Saturday, former party president Sonia Gandhi reminded party workers how the Congress had opened the door to alliances earlier to defeat the NDA. The plenary session also adopted a political resolution calling for “a pragmatic approach for cooperation with all like-minded parties” and “a common workable programme” against the BJP in the 2019 elections.

Besides, the Congress had sent out another clear change: of a generational shift at the top to mark Rahul Gandhi taking over the reins. The theme of the plenary is ‘Waqt hai badlav ka (It’s time for change)’. Senior party leaders, in the presence of the high command, talked about infighting and how “it’s Congressmen who defeat the Congress”, while young leaders of the party shared the podium at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Delhi.

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