The Congress Working Committee on Tuesday endorsed the government’s recent economic policy decisions, including the controversial one permitting FDI in multibrand retail, but not before some members expressed their apprehensions about the timing, necessity and advisability of the measures taken, especially as State elections are round the corner. Their chief concern was that there should be no obstacles in the way of ameliorating the condition of the poor and weaker sections.
Of course, with Congress president Sonia Gandhi leading the discussion with her extempore opening remarks, striking an approbatory note on economic reforms, stressing that the government was stable and slamming the Opposition, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
But the questions asked by some CWC members forced the government’s representatives to try and allay their fears. One member felt that it might have been better to create public opinion for these decisions before they were taken, another said had the party been taken into confidence before the government made its announcements, it could have responded more effectively to criticism. Could not the diesel price increase have been staggered, questioned a third, while a fourth wanted to know why Congress Chief Ministers were not consulted on the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders. Among those who placed their views strongly were Congress media chairperson Janardan Dwivedi, general secretary Madhusudan Mistry and senior leader Mohsina Kidwai.
On his part, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured the CWC, Mr. Dwivedi said, that his government would take care of the poor, the farming community and the disadvantaged, creating policies that were in line with the Congress’ traditional concern for the aam aadmi. Both Dr. Singh, and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who spoke before him, said the government would not be able to implement the UPA’s pro-poor flagship programmes without undertaking reforms. Mr. Chidambaram, Mr. Dwivedi added, explained that if steps were not taken to attract FDI, reduce subsidies and increase productivity, the rupee would continue in freefall. Party sources added that while there was a reluctant agreement that everyone must pay to restore the health of the economy, the poor must pay less.
Ms. Gandhi said it was imperative to undertake economic reforms and expressed satisfaction that the government had taken steps in that direction. She also said the message of the reforms must be taken to the people by the party, just as welfare measures undertaken by the government had been publicised in the past.
Congress sources said the party was planning a massive rally in the capital in support of the measures initiated by the government: indeed, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was specially called for the meeting for this purpose but as time ran out, the details could not be discussed. It is also likely that similar public meetings will be held at district headquarters to explain the reasons for the government’s economic decisions, and the BJP’s “hypocrisy” in opposing them.
Indeed, in her speech, Ms. Gandhi lambasted the Opposition for playing “negative” politics, as she urged the BJP to play a responsible Opposition as the Congress did when it was similarly placed. Without naming any party, she said that after the exit of one ally, two other allies came forward to back the government, so there was no threat to it. .
As for other issues, the Congress president expressed her concern at the spate of recent communal incidents in Uttar Pradesh and thanked all those who assisted in relief work in Assam after the State was devastated by a burst of sectarian violence.
Senior leader Gurcharan Singh Charak drew attention to the recent murder of three sarpanches in Jammu and Kashmir. To this, general secretary Rahul Gandhi responded, saying it was a “serious issue” and needed immediate attention.
Party sources said Mr. Gandhi would speak to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, as the Congress is part of his government, urging him to take steps immediately to restore confidence in the sarpanches, many of whom have quit their posts in the wake of the killings.
No CWC meeting would be complete without a member suggesting that Mr. Gandhi be given more responsibilities — and the former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi did just that. But sources said the suggestion went unremarked on.