First, Congress president Sonia Gandhi lit into the Opposition; then a combative Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took on Team Anna, without naming it, for the second time in a week, sharply attacking its members for spreading “canards and falsehoods” about him and his senior Ministers. On Monday, as the extended Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party's apex decision-making body, met at the Parliament House Annexe here, the two top leaders concentrated their firepower not just on their political rivals, but on all those holding them responsible for a range of ills, from corruption to policy paralysis.
But if the duo's sights were set on the government's critics, most of the 42 speakers at the day-long meeting, CWC sources told The Hindu, stressed that charges of corruption and high prices — including the recent hike in the petrol price — were together devastating the government and the party. This even though the Prime Minister spoke of his government taking “action on multiple fronts” to tackle “the menace of corruption” and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee explained how the prices of petroleum products could be rationalised with the cooperation of State governments, while giving the CWC members an overview of the grim economic situation and the steps planned to reverse it. Member after member said it was getting difficult to justify to their constituents the massive hike in petrol price.
Though there was no dissent, there was a great deal of candour, reflecting the desire in the party for changes that could dramatically lift the Congress' sagging fortunes.
Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, CWC sources said, suggested another “Kamaraj Plan” (in 1963, senior Congress leader K. Kamaraj had suggested that all senior party leaders quit their ministerial posts to devote their energies to re-vitalise the Congress). Offering his own resignation as a start, Mr. Hooda urged Ms. Sonia Gandhi to take tough decisions like Indira Gandhi.
Several speakers, including special invitee Mohinder Singh Kaypee, also underscored the need for younger leaders to come forward, with CWC permanent invitee and former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi saying Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi must play a larger role in the party. Asked whether the subject of greater responsibilities for younger people was raised, Mr. Mukherjee told journalists: “The discussion was informative; members were candid. Younger leaders will have to come forward — the older chaps cannot continue for ever.”
The problems of dealing with coalition partners also surfaced, with Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee president Manikrao Thakre and his West Bengal counterpart Pradip Bhattacharya complaining about the Nationalist Congress Party and the Trinamool Congress — parties with which the Congress shares power in the two States: the two men, separately, the CWC sources said, expressed the view that the Congress should go it alone and build up its own organisations.