In the wake of outrage following gang rape, focus will be on need for swift punishment

The urgent need to reform the criminal justice system and ensure swift punishment will be a key element in the Jaipur Declaration the Congress plans to adopt at the AICC session, which will follow the chintan shivir later this week.

This comes in the wake of the nationwide outrage following the gang rape and brutal violation of a 23-year-old paramedical student here on December 16, with the outpouring of anger and anguish on the streets focussing on the inability of the system to tackle crime of all kinds, especially violence against the most vulnerable.

Indeed, the protests will influence the Congress’ deliberations in a fundamental way: apart from spotlighting the need for a speedier justice system, one of the five subjects under the scanner will be women’s empowerment, with party president Sonia Gandhi making one more stab at pushing the Women’s Reservation Bill. The fact that half the invitees are under 45, with members of the Youth Congress and the NSUI accounting for as many as 119, will ensure that the use of the social media by the protesters is also be on the table, a senior functionary said.

Subsidy reduction

Deliberations on how to reform the criminal justice system will be part of the discussion on “Emerging socio-economic challenges,” one of the five subjects the Congress will take up.

Two other critical issues that will be thrashed out under this head are “how to use technology to plug leakages in the system” and “how to reduce subsidies without hurting the poor,” said Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh, who heads the socio-economic challenges group.

This will feed into the current debate on the UPA government’s ambitious plan to use the Aadhaar platform for direct cash transfers and the move towards reduction of subsidies through what Mr. Singh described as “closely targeted subsidies,” already in vogue in Mexico and Brazil. He, however, stressed that there was no longer any difference of opinion in the party on the economic reforms agenda: “It is accepted by the Congress that [reforms] leads to economic growth which leads to higher tax collections which, in turn, lead to higher allocations in the social sector.”

Mr. Singh, however, conceded that the challenge was how to draw up an accurate list of those who are below the poverty line (BPL): “One way would be to include all families where there is malnourishment, as this is clinically and visually easy to assess, include all SCs and STs except those who own over 10 acres of land and exclude all income taxpayers. That would leave 77 per cent of the population, and further criteria could be drawn up for them.”

Food security Bill

The long-pending food security Bill will also be discussed at the chintan shivir: the parliamentary standing committee examining it will submit its final report to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on January 16, two days ahead of the commencement of the chintan shivir. Of course, the Bill will then go to the Food Ministry, the Law Ministry and finally to the Cabinet — the hope, Congress sources said, is that it will be ready to be taken up in the budget session.

Deliberations on January 18 and 19, emanating from the five discussion papers prepared by the sub-committees on future political challenges, emerging socio-economic challenges, India and the world, organisational strengths and women’s empowerment, will result in five reports. On January 19 evening, the five reports prepared by the 350-odd delegates — divided into five groups — will then be shaped into the Jaipur Declaration draft. The Congress Working Committee will also meet that evening.

On January 20, that draft will be placed before the AICC session, where it will be discussed again and the amended text adopted. The Jaipur Declaration, Mr. Singh says, will be a key document when the election manifesto for 2014 is formulated.

The chintan shivir will clearly influence the working of the Rahul Gandhi-headed Organising Committee, which has three separate sub-groups dealing with the manifesto, communication and the media, and electoral alliances.

It is learnt that the subject of alliances will also come up for discussion by the group that takes up political challenges: while the Congress has instinctively been opposed to such alliances, since the last chintan shivir in 2003 in Shimla, it has accepted coalition politics as inevitable.

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