Sonia meets general secretaries to chalk out details of Jan Jagran Abhiyan meant to counter BJP campaign

A day after Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal sought to underplay the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor-General in the 2G scam, the Congress continued to be in damage control mode: party president Sonia Gandhi, who had shot off letters more than a week ago to Union Ministers and Chief Ministers, asking them to relinquish their discretionary powers, especially those relating to land allotment, met party general secretaries on Saturday morning to chalk out the details of the Jan Jagran Abhiyan intended to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party's campaign against the United Progressive Alliance government on the issue of corruption.

As she had pointed out at last month's plenary session, the Abhiyan's objective was to both “inform the people of the achievements of the Congress-led UPA government and expose the BJP doublespeak,” with at least one public meeting in every Assembly constituency.

Ms. Gandhi's letter comes in the wake of the public appeal she made to Union Ministers and Chief Ministers at the party's 83{+r}{+d} plenary session. On that occasion, she had prescribed a five point action plan to battle corruption, which included the review and relinquishing of discretionary powers.

Simultaneously, government sources told The Hindu that a Group of Ministers under Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was being planned to examine how best to implement Ms. Gandhi's five-point action plan.

Apart from urging ministers to give up their discretionary powers, the Congress president also suggested that the government consider state funding of elections, fast-tracking of all cases that involve corruption by public servants including politicians, legislating to ensure transparency in public procurement and contracts and an “open, competitive system of exploiting natural resources.”

After her meeting with general secretaries, Ms. Gandhi and her Political Secretary Ahmed Patel met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his 7, Race Course Residence, party sources said. The meeting triggered speculation that discussions on a Cabinet reshuffle, possibly after the middle of the month, had begun.

The party sources added that the changes in government would precede changes in the party organisation, with a strong likelihood of some of those holding ministerial and organisational positions losing one or the other charge. The Congress Working Committee is also yet to be reconstituted.

Earlier, at Saturday's hour-long post-plenary meeting with party functionaries, Ms. Gandhi, the sources said, reiterated that Congressmen must adhere to austerity and simplicity in personal lives as well as at party functions both in States where they are in power and in the Opposition.

“Simplicity, restraint and austerity must be our chosen way,” Ms. Gandhi had said at last month's plenary, stressing, “We cannot make this a law. But in a country where poverty is still widespread, let us at least have the moral sensibility to avoid vulgar displays of wealth and waste.”

Ms. Gandhi also wanted to know what progress had been made in the States on setting up coordination committees at the State level – between the government and the party, or the Congress Legislature Party and the party – and monitoring committees at the block and district levels to keep an eye on the government's 16 flagship programmes, which include the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.

Poll preparations

General secretaries of the election-bound States — West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Assam — also reported on the state of preparedness of their respective party units.

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