In a two—pronged attack on fundamentalism and corruption, Congress President Sonia Gandhi today said majority and minority communalism are dangerous and must be defeated and favoured fast—tracking all corruption cases, including those of politicians.

Addressing the Congress Plenary, she dwelt at length on the two subjects in the backdrop of a number of corruption charges hitting the party and the UPA government headed by it and the controversy surrounding Rahul Gandhi’s comments about Hindu radicalism being “bigger threat” than groups like Lashkar—e—Taiba.

“The Congress party makes no distinction between organisations of the majority and of the minority communities who indulge in communalism and related acts of terrorism. They are all dangerous, they must all be defeated,” Ms. Gandhi said in her 30—minute Presidential address to the two—day Plenary session that began today.

Maintaining that Congress has always fought against all forms of communalism, regardless of their source, Ms. Gandhi said, “communalism is the abuse of religion for narrow political purposes.

“It is the abuse of religion and to spread hatred and bigotry. It is the abuse of religion to polarise our society and to divide us.”

In an apparent attack on saffron forces, she said the country cannot ignore the pernicious impact of individuals, institutions and ideologies that distor history and thrive on spreading religious prejudice and inciting people to violence using religion as a cover.

Ms. Gandhi’s attack on communalism of all hues comes as an apparent damage—control exercise in the wake of controversy surrounding Mr. Rahul’s remarks to US Ambassador Timothy Roemer against Hindu radicalism that came under attack from BJP and RSS.

Corruption

Dwelving on the issue of corruption over which the government and the party have been under attack, the Congress President expressed concern over the fact that it has “become a disease” at all levels throughout the society.

She underlined the need for instituting a new system of fast tracking all cases that concern corruption by public servants, including politicians.

“Such cases drag on interminably and undermine public confidene and trust. Why can’t we put in place systems that bring corruption cases to closure in a defined time—frame? This would bring the guilty to book quickly and clear those unfairly charged,” Ms. Gandhi said.

Although she did not mention any specific case of corruption, she was obviously referring to corruption charges that have tarnished the image of the government and the party like 2G spectrum scam, CWG irregularities and Adarsh Housing Scam in Maharashtra.

Ms. Gandhi, who prescribed a four—point action plan to battle corruption, asked party Chief Ministers and Central Ministers to relinquish discretionary powers in land allotment, declaring that “we must corruption head—on“.

She said there was “ample evidence” that all discretionary powers, particularly in land allocation, breed corruption. “I would like all Congress Chief Ministers and Ministers both at the Centre and the States to set an example by reviewing and relinquishing powers.”

Noting significantly that there was no clapping from the delegates on this suggestion, the Congress President reminded party leaders of the need to be clean in public life.

Simplicity, restraint and austerity

“Congressmen and women, holding office, must not allow any doubt about their probity and integrity. It ill becomes representatives of a party claiming to speak for the poor to indulge in greed, extravagance and luxury.

“Simplicity, restraint and austerity must be our chosen way. We cannot make this a law. But in a country where poverty is still widespread, let us at least have moral sensibility to avoid vulgar displays of wealth and waste,” she said.

The Congress unseated Ashok Chavan from Maharashtra Chief Ministership in the wake of Adarsh Housing Society scam, removed Suresh Kalmadi from the post of Secretary of the Parliamentary Party after charges of irregularities in CWG.

A Raja, a representative of DMK, was also forced to resign as Union Telecom Minister in the wake of 2G scam.

BJP under scrutiny

In this context, Ms. Gandhi hit out at BJP questioning whether it had removed anybody facing corruption charges.

“Even when no charge has been established, we have asked ministers and Chief Ministers to step down, pending inquiry.

How many other parties can make such a claim? Can the BJP do so in regard to Karnataka where corruption is rampant or other states?”

She attacked the Opposition parties for not allowing the Winter Session to function, asking “can anything justify bringing Parliament to a halt? Can the Opposition justify undermining the norms on which a Parliamentary democracy functions?

“Surely, Parliament cannot be held hostage to political expediency. Parliament itself is the forum to discuss and resolve contentious issues.”

As part of the action plan to take corruption head—on, Ms. Gandhi suggested that the government should consider how best to take forward the proposal of State funding of elections.

She also said that the government must ensure through legislation and clear procedures full transparency in public procurement and contracts.

“It is the duty of the administration to ensure that there is no subversion of due process. And should it come to pass, whistle—blowers must be protected,” she said.

There is also need for an open competitive system of exploiting natural resources, which has now assumed much greater urgency, the Congress chief said.

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