Sonia slams ‘disease’ of corruption, outlines 4-point agenda (Evening Lead)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

NEW DELHI - With corruption scandals dogging her party-led government and holding up parliament, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi Sunday urged for probity in public life and outlined a four-point agenda to deal with graft, including fast-tracking cases against public servants and politicians “that means all of us”.

Addressing the party’s 83rd plenary at Burari in northwest Delhi, the Congress 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 stressed heavily on probity and accountability of Congress leaders and workers.

Outlining a four-point agenda to fight corruption, she suggested that the government should fast-track all cases concerning corruption, including of politicians “that means all of us”.

“Such cases drag on interminably. All corruption cases should be brought to closure in a defined time frame, to bring the guilty to book and clear those unfairly charged,” Gandhi said.

She also said there should be “clear and full transparency in all procurement cases and contracts”.

Saying that there is “ample evidence that all discretionary powers in land allocation breed corruption”, she suggested that Congress chief ministers and leaders “should set an example by reviewing and relinquishing such powers”.

The fourth point was to bring a “more competitive system of exploiting natural resources”.

She took on the BJP over corruption and the stalling of the winter session of parliament.

“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 was referring to the party asking Ashok Chavan to step down as chief minister of Maharashtra over the Adarsh housing scandal and A. Raja being asked to quit over the 2G spectrum scam, while BJP Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa was allowed to continue in office despite being suspected of involvement in land scandals involving his family.

“Can they (the BJP) justify bringing parliament to halt? Parliament cannot be held hostage to political blackmail. Parliament is itself a forum for debate,” the Congress president 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.

“We cannot ignore such elements who provoke people to violent means by using religion. They are very dangerous,” she said.

“We cannot ignore the pernicious impact of individuals, institutions and ideologies that distort our history, that thrive on spreading religious prejudice and that incite people to violence using religion as a cover,” she said.

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

Congress workers started arriving for the delegate session at the tented township 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.

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