After Bihar rout, Congress pleanry provides some oxygen

Monday, December 20, 2010

NEW DELHI - After the humiliating defeat in Bihar and the political turmoil over corruption scandals, at least some in the Congress were breathing easy after the morale-boosting plenary that ended Monday.

As thousands of delegates from across India began returning home, it was clear that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party president Sonia Gandhi had managed to enthuse the rank and file.

Minister of State for Home M. Ramachandran explained why.

“The party activists have got direction and enthusiasm. It will be reflected in the assembly polls in Kerala, West Bengal and other states,” Ramachandran told IANS, referring to next year’s elections.

“There was an impression that the Congress has been weakened by scandals and the parliament deadlock. Now the battle begins, with the Congress on the offensive,” he added.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot went a step ahead, indicating that the Congress was all set to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s political mentor.

“The battle we fought and won in Rajasthan will be repeated all over the country,” Gehlot told IANS.

“We exposed the double standards of the RSS, including their involvement in the Ajmer blast. Now Soniaji will take it up at the national level,” he said.

Although sober as usual in his tone, Manmohan Singh made it clear that he was not going to bow to the opposition over its demand for a joint parliamentary probe into the raging spectrum scam — which has cost DMK’s A. Raja his cabinet post and washed out parliament’s just-ended winter session after the government refused to budge.

Sonia Gandhi was at her combative best even as she underlined her party’s determination to stamp out corruption.

“We should get aggressive in countering the opposition’s campaign against the Congress,” Gandhi told the 1,250 delegates and 15,000 other leaders and activists in her valedictory speech.

Congress leaders and delegates IANS spoke to were of the view that the plenary — being held in Delhi after three decades — was a “badly needed pain killer” following the rout in Bihar and the corruption scandals that Congress sources admit have dented the party’s and government’s image.

These primarily revolved around the spectrum scandal — based on allegations that second generation spectrum was given away at below market prices — and the organisation of the Commonwealth Games.

Matching Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi was Rahul Gandhi, the party’s new icon.

“That is the biggest achievement from the organisational side,” Jammu and Kashmir Congress leader Ravinder Sharma said, referring to the “trinity”.

A delegate from Uttar Pradesh echoed the opinion, pointing to the applause all three received for their speeches.

Manmohan Singh said he was man of integrity.

“I wish to state categorically that I have nothing to hide… I sincerely believe that like Ceaser’s wife, the prime minister should be above suspicion.”

Sonia Gandhi batted for Manmohan Singh, the economist-turned-politician she helped become prime minister in 2004 and again five years later.

The plenary came down heavily on the BJP.

“Can the BJP (ask the chief minister to step down as done by the Congress),” Sonia Gandhi said, referring to the BJP’s refusal to sacrifice Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who has faced corruption charges.

The plenary launched a frontal assault on the RSS and other such groups for terrorist and fundamentalist activities.

Although the senior Gandhi said both “minority and majority communalism” were equally dangerous, the party sharpened its weapons against rightwing radicals.

Party general secretary Digvijay Singh went to the extent of comparing the approach of RSS towards Muslims to the attitude of Nazis to Jews.

But while the Congress may be enthused, it was equally evident from the opposition response that the winter of discontent was not going to go away.

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