Sonia attacks corruption, seeks fast-tracking of graft cases (Afternoon Lead)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

NEW DELHI - Meeting against the backdrop of a stalemated parliament and corruption scandals, Congress president Sonia Gandhi Sunday outlined a four-point agenda to deal with corruption, including fast-tracking cases of graft against public servants and politicians.

Addressing the party’s 83rd plenary at Burari, the Congresss chief also said there should be no difference in the government’s dealing with acts of terror instigated by the majority and minority communities.

Terming corruption as a “disease spreading throughout the society”, Gandhi lashed out at the BJP over corruption and the stalling of the winter session of parliament.

She said while the Congress has demonstrated its will to fight against corruption “through actions”, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other parties cannot “make such claims”. She was referring to the party asking scam tainted Ashok Chavan to step down as chief minister of Maharashtra over the Adarsh housing scam, and A. Raja being asked to quit over the 2G spectrum scam, while land scam allegation-hit BJP Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa has been allowed to continue in office.

“Even when no charge has been made established, we have asked ministers and chief ministers to step down pending inquiry…Can the BJP do so in regard to Karnataka where corruption is rampant or the other states?”

She also stressed that corruption should be taken head on and the proposal for state funding of elections should be taken forward decisively.

Outlining four steps to tackle corruption, she said a new system of fast-tracking cases of graft by public servants and politicians - “that means all of us” - and bringing such cases to close in a defined time-frame should be there.

She called for full transparency in public procurement and contracts and that whistleblowers should be protected. Gandhi also said that since discretionary powers on land allocation “breed corruption”, she suggested that all party chief ministers and ministers should set an example by relinquishing such powers.

There should also be an open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources, she suggested.

Calling for abjuring “vulgar display of wealth”, Gandhi said partymen and women should practise “simplicity, restraint and austerity” during functions.

“Simplicity and austerity must be the chosen way,” she said, but stressed that this must not mean party men stop celebrating occasions like marriages and birthdays.

“Such occasions can be celebrated in a restrained way. We must set an example. Stop vulgar display of wealth,” she said.

Stressing that communal forces were “very dangerous” for the country’s secular credentials, she said: “Congress makes no distinction between organisations of the majority and minority communities who indulge in communalism and related acts of terrorism. They are all dangerous and must be all defeated.”

Her remarks come days after party general secretary and her son Rahul Gandhi’s remarks - - that terror from Hindu radicals may be a bigger threat than support for Islamist groups from some in the Muslim community - triggered a political storm and a war of words between the BJP and the Congress.

Praising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Gandhi said the party “solidly” supports the prime minister for his “unwavering devotion” to the nation’s prosperity and called the opposition’s “personal attack” on him “despicable”.

She said the objective of the 83rd plenary was to “introspect” and added that a ‘chintan shivir’ or a brainstorming session would be held in the coming months. She also asked the party’s union ministers to engage with the local party leadership during their visits to states.

Gandhi also said that many party workers in non-Congress states had complained to her that the party’s own ministers at the centre do not fully appreciate their concerns.

She said that party workers in opposition ruled states should create awareness about the role of the central government in creating and funding various flagship social sector schemes.

Referring to the electoral drubbing in Bihar, she said there was no alternative to earnestly beginning the process of reviving the party organization from the grass-roots.

Gandhi lauded contributions of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao in her speech that lasted nearly 40 minutes.

Congress workers started arriving for the delegate session at tented township in Burari in northwest Delhi from the early morning and the main conference hall was brimming with party workers by the time Gandhi started speaking a little before noon. Organisers said over 15,000 people were attending the plenary.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and state Congress chief J.P. Agarwal greeted Congress president and the prime minister before the start of proceedings. The two top Congress leaders later honoured freedom fighters.

The party also adopted a resolution to mark its 125 years and changed its constitution to extend the term of party president to five years from three.

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