Our record is clean, says a combative Sonia; Rahul gives Manmohan the thumbs up

If Congress Chief Ministers ensured a show of strength on the historic Ramlila Grounds here on a grey Sunday morning, it was Sonia Gandhi who infused life into the proceedings. As eagles circled overhead, a combative Congress president, punching the air as she spoke, endorsed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s economic road map, including the controversial decision to introduce FDI in the retail sector and the increase in fuel prices. She exhorted the party faithful to spread the word about the government’s flagship programmes and list the virtues of FDI and take on the Opposition — and the party’s detractors — frontally on the issue of corruption, unapologetically.

“Our conscience is clear, our record is clean and our intentions are good. There is no need for the Congress to be on the defensive,” she said. Those criticising the Congress the most, she stressed in a veiled reference to the BJP, were “neck deep” in corruption.

Indeed, Ms. Gandhi, part of the Congress’ triumvirate along with the Prime Minister and her son, party general secretary Rahul Gandhi, was the star of the show, demonstrating the same fire she had in the run-up to the general elections of 2004. Indeed, she overshadowed her son — who is expected to play a larger role in the Congress in the days to come: of course, Mr. Gandhi, too, gave the Prime Minister the thumbs up, and underscored the fact that the Lokpal Bill would be passed soon, but through much of his speech he lamented the inadequacies of the current political system, which kept out the aam aadmi. The Prime Minister focused on explaining the government’s recent economic decisions, while listing its achievements in the social sector.

Battle-ready

After months of fending off charges of corruption, policy paralysis and insensitivity to the plight of the aam aadmi, the Congress tore into the Opposition: the message was the party was ready for a battle.

The grey, smog-laden sky did not deter those who had been mobilised from neighbouring States from streaming in from early morning and filling the Ramlila Grounds that sits snugly between the two Delhis, old and new, the Kalan Masjid and the Delhi Stock Exchange in the background, to capacity and even spilling on to the roads that surround it.

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