Declaring that the “winds of change are coming”, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi said Thursday that the Congress will work with “like-minded” parties to ensure the defeat of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.
Gandhi also sought to dispel the perception that she was disengaging from active politics by saying that she would play a role in talks with other parties in the run-up to the elections. However, she made clear that her son Rahul Gandhi, who took over from her as Congress president in December, was now her “boss too”.
Questioning the government’s record, Gandhi said it has been all about “maximum publicity, minimum government, or put another way, maximum marketing, minimum delivery”.
Addressing a meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party, of which she is the chairperson, Gandhi said, “I will work with the Congress president and other colleagues in discussions with like-minded political parties to ensure that in the next (general) election the BJP is defeated and India is restored to a democratic, inclusive, secular, tolerant and economically progressive path.”
The statement is being seen a signal to senior Opposition leaders who may be apprehensive about dealing with Rahul ever since Sonia stepped down as Congress president and retreated from the forefront. It is also being viewed as a message to her party that Rahul is now the boss.
“We have elected a new Congress president… He is now my boss too, let there be no doubt about that, and I know that all of you will work with him with the same dedication, loyalty and enthusiasm as you did with me,” she said.
Gandhi said she was “confident” that the party would work “cohesively” under Rahul’s leadership to revive its fortunes. “That process has begun. We performed very creditably under tough circumstances in Gujarat and the by-election results in Rajasthan were huge. This shows that the winds of change are coming,” she said.
Gandhi asked the party to be in a state of readiness for the national elections which, she said, “might well be called earlier as they were in 2004”.
Hitting out at the BJP government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the foreign policy front, Gandhi said “personalised diplomacy and public bear-hugs are all very well but there is no substitute for institutionalised processes, for hard work and preparation, and for continuity in our national policies”.
She said that ever since the BJP came to power, “institutions that are at the foundation of our democracy have come under systematic assault — Parliament itself, the judiciary, media and civil society”.
According to her, minorities feel unsafe and are being subjected to “barbarous attacks”, while Dalits and women have come under renewed and widespread atrocities.
“In many cases, this violence, especially against minorities and Dalits, is not sporadic or random, but orchestrated to polarise our society for narrow political gains. We saw this in both UP and Gujarat. We will no doubt see it again in Karnataka. Such polarisation is criminal in a democracy, yet those in power look the other way,” she said.
Gandhi alleged that investigative agencies have been let loose against political opponents, and “an all-pervasive atmosphere of fear and intimidation has been created”.
“Liberal, secular and democratic traditions are being wantonly damaged and the pluralistic nature of Indian society, which has been its strength for centuries, is being eroded,” she said.
Gandhi said that reality was different from the tall claims being made about economic achievements by the government. The government, she claimed, is unveiling new programmes and initiatives with the “flourish of a magician” but they are recycled schemes launched by the UPA. The Modi government, she claimed, “is out of touch with reality, and lives by its own propaganda and lies”.
“Agriculture continues to be in deep distress and the desperation of farmers is sadly evident in the number of suicides. The rural economy, and small and medium enterprises, are in shambles. Unemployment is staring at our youth. New jobs are not only not being created, but existing jobs themselves are being lost. Employment cannot happen without new investments and the fact is that there has been a marked decline in the rate of investment over the past four years,” she said.
She said the Budget itself is “full of sleights of hand — of jumlas — such as the oft-repeated but impossible to achieve promise to double farmer incomes in five years, and the promises of increased support prices without clarifying their basis”.
Attacking the government on internal security, Gandhi said, “Jammu and Kashmir continues to bleed… We must combat cross-border terrorism forcefully — on that there can be no compromise… Side-by-side, we must also ask, where is the healing touch, where is the developmental thrust, where is the political engagement that was so much in evidence when Manmohan Singh was prime minister?”