Congress members must shed factional behaviour, party president Sonia Gandhi said on Wednesday, stressing that fighting as one disciplined team was critical to electoral victories. Addressing the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) for the first time after the party's poor performance in the recent Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Goa, Ms. Gandhi underscored the fact that the Congress needed to draw upon the lessons of previous polls and shape up for the series of impending State elections.

“…we must all shed all manner of factional behaviour, and fight as one disciplined team at all levels. That will be the single-most important factor to decide whether we win or lose,” she said, pointing out, “People look to us — but we need to show them our commitment and our unity if we are to convert this sentiment into electoral victories.”

But even as she urged party colleagues to demonstrate their commitment, unity and observe discipline, she came to son and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's rescue, while discussing the recent Uttar Pradesh elections, where the Congress stood fourth, adding just six seats to its 2007 score.

While describing the results in Punjab and Goa as “very disappointing,” Ms. Gandhi said, “In Uttar Pradesh, even though we did not perform as well as we had hoped to, we increased our vote share quite considerably and were seen as a serious player for the first time in 22 years.”

Wednesday's CPP meeting comes in the wake of a high-power committee, set up under Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony to review the party's performance in five recent Assembly elections, submitting its report to Ms. Gandhi.

With Assembly elections due later this year in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, and in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan next year, the Congress president asked party members to take the message of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's social welfare schemes to the people. Without naming the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled States of Gujarat and Karnataka, she asked her party colleagues to “expose” the hollow claims of Opposition-ruled State governments, stressing that “mis-governance and corruption have been widespread in some of these States” as revealed in reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Lokayuktas.

‘Duty to the people'

Simultaneously, she highlighted the urgent need to pass pending legislation on food security and land acquisition, which have been held up largely because UPA allies, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Trinamool Congress, are not happy with the way they have been framed. “…we must do all we can to ensure that the legislative process is not unduly delayed,” Ms. Gandhi said, adding, “whatever motives may guide the Opposition, we have but one singular duty and that is to the people who have elected us.”

Backs NCTC

While stressing her party's commitment to strengthening federalism, she indirectly backed the government's proposal for a National Counter-Terrorism Centre, which has come under fire from Opposition and allies alike: “…there are Centre-State issues of major national importance such as fighting terrorism or dealing with Left-wing extremism, where the Centre cannot shirk its responsibility,” she said, underscoring, “In such cases, it has been our government's endeavour to work closely with the State governments so that our national interest is protected. Trust and cooperation must be the anchor of Centre-State relations.”

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