Assertive not downcast, Congress to get combative at plenary

By George Joseph, IANS
Friday, December 17, 2010

NEW DELHI - The Congress may be in a slump with corruption scandals dogging its heels and a disastrous electoral showing in Bihar, but it has decided to adopt a tough, combative stance and take on the opposition at the upcoming party plenary beginning here Saturday.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi set the tone for the three-day meeting, at a sprawling tented township that has come up at north Delhi’s Burari locality, when she slammed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other opposition parties as “corrupt”.

“Who are they to lecture us on corruption?” Gandhi asked at the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) meeting Monday.

Congress leaders say Gandhi’s aggressive stance — in the face of several scams, including 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games and Mumbai’s Adarsh housing society — will be echoed in the plenary that will have as its slogan, “125 years of service and dedication”.

A 22-member team of senior leaders, led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Defence Minister A.K. Antony, is at work finalising the three major resolutions - on political, economic and foreign affairs.

Top leaders will finalise the resolutions for the meet on Saturday at a meeting to be held at the Parliament House Annexe here.

The political resolution, to be drafted by a team led by Antony, will include stringent criticism of the opposition for stalling parliament over its insistence on a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the 2G spectrum scam. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is amongst the members of the team, party sources said.

The resolution may argue that even the Supreme Court verdict Thursday — expanding the scope of the Central Bureau of Investigation and acknowledging lapses in the spectrum allocation — was an “endorsement of the governmental steps of probe”, a Congress insider said.

According to Congress secretary Mohan Prakash, the Congress had taken “action whenever specific corruption issues have come up”. He cited the resignations of Ashok Chavan as Maharashtra chief minister (over the Adarsh housing society) and Shashi Tharoor as minister of state for external affairs (over the IPL Kochi team).

“It will be a historic session. We, the party workers in Delhi, are engaged full time in the preparations,” Congress Delhi unit chief J.P. Agarwal told IANS.

“The Delhi meet will add a new chapter in the history of the Congress, which was in the forefront of the independence struggle. Congress contribution in the post-independence period will be highlighted in the meeting,” Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit told IANS.

To highlight the party’s contributions to the freedom struggle, a group of at least one freedom fighter from each state will be honoured, Congress general secretary Oscar Fernandes disclosed.

Fernandes said the plenary at the ‘AICC village’ would be attended by 1,250 delegates and at least 10,000 other leaders and workers.

It is for the sixth time - and the third time after independence - that the national capital will host the plenary session.

Initially, it was supposed to be held in Mumbai, where the party was born in 1885.

The party’s last plenary session - the 82nd - was held in Hyderabad in 2006 when Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.

Then, the Congress was basking under the glory of its return to power in 2004 after more than a decade with a strong showing in the state. But now the party is a divided house there, with Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of YSR (who died in 2009), and YSR’s widow Vijaylaxmi quitting the party.

The picture is not rosy in other states too. In the October-November polls to the 243-member Bihar assembly, Congress got just four seats, less than half of the nine it won in 2005.

“Ups and downs in polls are are natural in the history of a great party. But the people want Congress to play an important role in the national politics,” is how Congress secretary Mohan Prakash sees it.

(George Joseph can be contacted at [email protected])

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