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Battered by a resounding defeat in four states just weeks ago, the Congress on Friday signalled it was reverting to its 2003 Shimla political plank of secularism versus communalism seeking the support of all “like-minded political and social forces” against a “polarising ideology”. And on economics, it sought to distance itself from the Manmohan Singh government’s legacy in terms of economic reforms and focus, instead, on the rights-based largesse through flagship schemes piloted by the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council.
In fact, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s appeal to the Prime Minister at the AICC session on Friday to restore the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders per household per annum from 9 to 12 captured the ruling party’s indifference to the government’s renewed thrust on economic reforms, which, incidentally, did not figure in either Sonia’s or Rahul Gandhi’s speeches or even in the AICC resolution.
Sounding unusually combative, Rahul Gandhi, in his 45-minute address, said the Congress is ready for the tough challenge ahead and “we will not stop till the battle is won”.
Calling the Lok Sabha elections “a turning point in our nation’s journey”, the younger Gandhi, without naming the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, slammed his “Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India)” campaign, saying the Congress was a “thought” which cannot be erased. And that “whoever has tried to do it, has himself got destroyed”.
Repeating many of his themes from his speeches during the Assembly elections where his party lost, Gandhi urged the party not to “lose courage” but to walk into battle with the “head held high”. He underlined the UPA’s social-welfare schemes and called for structural reforms within the party: Tickets to only those who have Congress “in their blood”, not those who hop from party to party. In an echo of the Aam Aadmi Party, he said 15 Lok Sabha tickets will be allocated based on feedback from local units.
Clearly meaning Modi, he said: “Democracy is not rule by dictates, not rule by one man” but by empowered elected representatives. He accused the BJP of disrupting Parliament and preventing the government from enacting crucial laws.
Admitting, in effect, that the Opposition was a better communicator, he said that it had marketed its wares well and made a veiled attack on the AAP as well. “They are good at selling combs to the bald. Some new people have come, who have already started giving haircuts,” he said evoking laughter all around.