A lot left unsaid in Sonia’s chintan shivir address

The Telengana issue, the Naxalite problem, the ideological challenge posed by Narendra Modi and his ilk and the faltering economy found no mention in her address.

bhavdeepkang

Bhavdeep Kang | January 18, 2013


Sonia Gandhi: Elected representatives must display greater accountability and demonstrable integrity.
Sonia Gandhi: Elected representatives must display greater accountability and demonstrable integrity.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi responded to civil society rage against black money, corruption and gender violence but failed to tackle contentious political issues in her inaugural address at the party's chintan shivir in Jaipur. A lot was left unsaid: the Telengana issue, the Naxalite problem, the ideological challenge posed by Narendra Modi and his ilk and the faltering economy found no mention in her address.

It was a transparent attempt at controlling the negative fallout of the coalgate and telecom scams, the Anna Hazare agitation for a Lokpal Bill and the brutal bus rape in Delhi. While appearing to share the concerns of civil society, the Congress is clearly worried that prime minister Manmohan Singh's middle class votaries – who celebrated his “clean” image in UPA I – have abandoned him in UPA II.

In a reference to black money, she said, “Lavish and ostentatious displays of wealth (by party leaders)...begs the question...of where this wealth is coming from.” Driving home the point, she said elected representatives must display “greater accountability and demonstrable integrity”. The educated middle class' protest against corruption had led to a churning to which the party must respond, she added.

She was equally emphatic in condemning the continuing atrocities and discrimination against women. In doing so, she was reaching out to a demographic that has so far eluded the Congress: the educated upper class woman. Studies have shown that while women as a whole prefer the Congress, the urban educated rich segment leans towards the BJP.

The other significant aspect of the Congress president's speech was a subtle warning both to Congress party veterans on the one hand and to UPA constituents on the other. At a time when the diesel price hike has agitated the UPA's allies, Sonia Gandhi said that in seeking alliances and dealing with partners, the party could not compromise its position, even while treating their viewpoints with respect. It was a clear signal to the allies that they should not cross their limits.

She expressed deep concern over the eroding vote base of the party in several states, indicating to the Congress old guard that a business-as-usual attitude would no longer be acceptable. The party would have to take note of the changing social and technological scenario and accommodate the aspirations of youth. But she also sent a signal to the youngsters by saying that performance would be the only ladder for advancement in the party.

The tone of the address was different from that of Pachmarhi and Shimla, when the party was on the offensive and more concerned about political issues – whether to go it alone or be open to a coalition. Today, the tone was defensive. It was an oblique acknowledgement of the government's failings (in containing corruption and ensuring gender justice) even while praising it for taking “revolutionary” steps and blaming the party for not being able to encash them.

Once again, she raised the issue of party discipline and called for honest introspection of its strengths and weaknesses – an old raga heard at Pachmarhi and again at Shimla. A passing reference to the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill was made and the usual concern for the agricultural sector and need for employment for youth expressed.

By the much awaited stance on smaller states was not spelled out. Nor was their any affirmation of a strong secular coalition against the resurgent right. There was no indication of what direction the economy would take in coming months and how the UPA proposes to come to grips with the Naxalite problem.
 

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