It is an honour for me to speak to you. Last year, at a similar gathering of colleagues and friends, I spoke about the optimism and energy that has built this great nation. The same energy that is unleashing an unstoppable democratic upsurge in our country today.
For the last ten years, we have had the privilege of Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singhji’s leadership. This unbroken decade of stability has created vast new economic opportunities for our youth and has brought about massive social and political change.
It is clear that we the Congress have made this democratic upsurge possible. We have served the country by enhancing and deepening the foundations of our democracy.
Let’s look at the big steps that we took to increase your power, the people’s power, in India. The single biggest attack on the closed system of governance is the RTI. Information is power. We restored this power to you where it rightfully belongs. The RTI has forever altered the politics of this country. We enacted this revolutionary law to hand you power, knowing fully well that it would place our own government under severe scrutiny.
We have also created the right to identity so that your money reaches you directly. It is the largest anti corruption platform that anyone has ever built. It will enable people to get their benefits and entitlements without paying a bribe.
Secondly, we constructed and reinforced the third pillar of government – Panchayati Raj. This has allowed millions of you to have access to our political system and has exponentially increased democracy in our country. What is NREGA and the Right to Food, if it is not handing you power? Decisions that were once in the hand of a few government officials are today firmly in the hands of all our people. The third step is the advancement of technology, the bedrock of which was set up by the Congress.
What the Congress party has enabled over the last ten years is an unmatched transfer of power to our people.
The answer to India’s problems lies in pushing this revolutionary democratisation further. There are MPs and MLAs here among us your job is law making. While the work that you do on the ground is very important, we need to bring your voice back into the law making process. It is you who truly represent the people of India, yet what power do you have in the system today?
We need to bring the voice of elected Local Self Government representatives into the governance of the country. There are some Pradhans in this audience and lakhs across the nation. I ask you: what power do you have to shape this country? Democracy is not rule by dictate. It is not rule by one man. It is rule through empowered elected representatives.
We have to empower all of you and bring you back into law making so that the voice of the MP counts in parliament, so that the voice of the MLA resounds in the legislature, so the voice of the Pradhan truly counts in the village. But the most important person is our worker.
Before we can empower MPs, MLAs and Pradhans we have to begin by empowering millions of our dedicated workers on the ground.
You should be able to enter the political system effortlessly and change your future. Instead you struggle. A disempowering system holds you back.
Today we live in a world where packaging and selling politics seems to replace the essence of real issues and real people. But lets be honest with each other. This is not just another turn in the history of India, another election to be fought, won or lost. This is a turning point in our nations’ journey. Nobody is in the mood to accept less than their full and complete right. No-one is willing to compromise anymore. They want individual choice. They want participation. They want a Fair Deal and they deserve it. Either we wake up to their aspirations, or we have no business to claim that we represent them. The change that is taking place around us is unstoppable.
The imperative before us, is not whether to change, but when and how to change.
What does this mean for us as a political party?
It means responding to the immense demand for political and governmental reform in the revolutionary and dynamic way that only the Congress Party is capable of doing.
It means that unlike others, we do not respond by complaining about all that is wrong without articulating how it will be corrected.
We do not respond by proposing oversimplified non-solutions.
We do not respond by subverting democratic institutions and blocking Parliament session after session, year after year.
Nor do we respond by turning people against each other and lighting the fires of communal hatred.
No, we do not respond by proposing either that the structures of democracy be handed to one single person or that they be viciously destroyed.
The Congress Party responds through peaceful, democratic and constitutional means. We respond from the soul of the values that built this great nation. It is interesting to see that the response of the opposition has been to move in exactly the opposite direction.
People demand honest and efficient governance. We respond by getting the Lokpal Act passed. We respond by placing another 6 bills in Parliament that if implemented in their spirit, will ensure not only that dishonesty is punished but also that honest officers are protected.
People demand higher incomes and greater prosperity. We respond by enforcing a minimum wage and giving them the highest growth rate in India’s history.
It’s easy to pretend that all this is just a matter of passing orders and directives but it isn’t. It takes time. It takes sustained commitment. Real change is structural and for that, we need to work continuously through legislation, reform and sustained political effort.
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