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Cong goes populist in manifesto

Cong goes populist in manifesto

Author: Nidhi Sharma
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 25, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/165006/Cong-goes-populist-in-manifesto.html

PM lashes out at Advani, Left

Rice and wheat at Rs 3 a kg for the poor, one-third reservation for women in Government jobs, coaching fee for all entrance exams for SC/ST students, a voluntary youth brigade, reservation for economically weaker sections of society and Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister - this and more ambitious promises were made by the Congress on Tuesday as it unveiled its election manifesto for 2009 Lok Sabha elections and officially made a second bid to return to power.

With a promise of "security, dignity and prosperity", party president Sonia Gandhi and Singh released the manifesto at Congress' headquarters at 24 Akbar Road. For the first time, the party departed from its age-old practice and projected a Prime Minister before parliamentary elections. It was a departure from tradition for the Congress as so far if at all someone had been projected as Prime Minister he was a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Throwing her weight behind Singh, Sonia declared that she would stick to her 2004 stand and would not accept the top post. "As Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh has led the country with dignity and firm resolve. His integrity, maturity and wisdom, together with his unique expertise and experience, make him best qualified to lead the nation and handle the many challenges that India faces, both at home and abroad."

Sonia was vague about the possibility of her children - Rahul and Priyanka - being made PM. "Maybe sometime in future," she replied to a query. She picked up the manifesto, which shows her and Singh on the cover, and hid her picture and replied: "Did you see the cover? I don't need to say anything else."

As soon as he was declared the party's prime ministerial candidate, Singh took on BJP's prime ministerial candidate LK Advani. Replying sharply to Advani's criticism that Singh was a "weak PM," he said: "Whether I was a weak PM or strong, actions of our Government speak volumes… When I see his (Advani's) record all I can discover is the prominent role he played in the demolition of Babri Masjid. When he was the Home Minister, Parliament and Lal Qila were attacked. Indian troops were mobilised for 12 months and then withdrawn and there was unnecessary wastage of funds… As Home Minister it was he who presided over the massacre in Gujarat. He was opportunist enough to even find virtues in Jinnah when he went to Pakistan."

Singh lambasted Advani for his demand that the Prime Minister should be a Lok Sabha member. The Prime Minister, who seemed to be in a particularly high combative mood, said: "The Constitution is quite clear. There have been Prime Ministers before me who have been Rajya Sabha members. Indira Gandhi started out as a Rajya Sabha member. Later even Deve Gowda and IK Gujral were RS members. So it seems LK Advani is inventing new constitutional norms." Singh, however, said that he would not contest LS elections because he is still recovering from his recent heart bypass surgery.

Both Sonia and Singh took the opportunity to condemn the emergence of the Third Front - Congress' former ally Left Front's new initiative. The manifesto termed the Third Front as "a recipe for chaos" and a grouping of opportunistic parties. While the manifesto criticised the Third Front, neither Sonia nor Singh categorically ruled out a post-poll alliance with the Left. When asked whether the Congress would seek Left support, Sonia said: "This isn't something I can answer now. Let's go through elections now."

When asked about the principal adversary, Singh said: "In politics all adversaries must be taken seriously. We are ready for a challenge from the Right (BJP) and the Left (Left Front). But it goes without saying that communalism is the greatest challenge."

The aam aadmi was high up on the agenda as the Congress tried to woo him through various new proposals in health, education and social welfare sectors. The manifesto takes note of the grim economic scenario and promises "faster and more inclusive growth." The party has promised to enact a National Food Security Act that would "guarantee access to sufficient food for all people" and set up subsidised food kitchens for homeless people in all cities.

The party has also promised to strengthen its flagship programme National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in which it has promised to give "at least 100 days of work" at a wage of Rs 100 a day for everyone. So far, the Government had promised 100 days of work but the wages were not fixed and depended on minimum wages prevalent in different States.

With national security becoming an election issue, the Congress promised to ensure the highest level of defence preparedness and speed up the process of police reforms. The manifesto also says the party will endeavour to fight communalism of all kinds, make the elected panchayat institutions financially strong, cut delays in courts, set up a national youth corps, give special focus to the small entrepreneurs and medium enterprises and will maintain the path of high growth with fiscal prudence and low inflation if voted to power again.

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