It was a call to arms on Wednesday morning, as Congress president Sonia Gandhi launched a frontal attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party, even as she backed the government. “Let us fight the forces out to destabilise us, forces who never accepted the verdict of 2004, and never reconciled themselves to the renewed mandate we got in 2009,” she said, addressing a Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) meeting. The sole objective of the BJP-led NDA, she said, was to “derail” the government's legislative agenda. Later, at night, party MPs gathered at a dinner hosted by Ms. Gandhi.
Rubbishing reports about differences between the party and the government, she stressed, “…our political opponents have been trying to create an impression that there are differences between the Congress and the government. Let me once and for all nail this. There may well be differing points of view. But whatever is eventually done is done together.”
MPs at the meeting said Ms. Gandhi was at her combative best, as she made it clear that the party and the government were on course: “Our programmes are productive, our policies correct.”
However, she acknowledged the lack of an effective communication strategy: “What seems to be lacking is a more effective effort by both the party and the government at communicating and propagating our accomplishments.” For instance, she mentioned at length the Food Security Bill, which she described as a landmark decision. Acknowledging the “concerns” related to it, she was firm: “We must make it work because it will protect a huge number of our people from hunger and malnutrition.” The MPs must make the Bill “a central part” of their political campaign, she told them.
And even though this was Ms. Gandhi's first speech to the CPP this session, interestingly, she made no reference to the controversy over the Cabinet decision to permit the entry of FDI in multibrand retail, which has since been put on hold because of strong protests by both the allies and the Opposition.
While avoiding a direct reference to Team Anna, Ms. Gandhi described as “malicious misinformation” all the criticism of the government “for not tackling the scourge of corruption.” On the contrary, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had in the debate on black money “forcefully articulated the government's positions and actions” and “exposed the hollowness and duplicity” of the Opposition's charges, “including the conspicuous lack of action all the years the NDA was in power.”
A year ago at the Congress plenary at Burari, she said, she had spelled out what needed to be done. Since then, the party had framed five major Bills which the government hoped to pass soon. These relate to protecting whistle-blowers, enhancing judicial accountability, strengthening anti-money laundering operations, ensuring time-bound delivery of services and redressing public grievances and tackling corruption down to the block level. Finally, there is the Lokpal Bill.
On the forthcoming Assembly elections, Ms. Gandhi said that while she expected the Congress to return to power in Punjab and Uttarakhand, in Uttar Pradesh, “the challenge is to convert that support into votes on polling day.” In Manipur and Goa, where the Congress is in power, she was confident of securing a renewed mandate.