Congress President Sonia Gandhi addressing at CPP General Body Meeting on 18/ 2/ 2003

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18 February 2003
Fellow MPs and Colleagues:
We go into the Budget session in the background of the extraordinarily tense situation in West Asia. This region is vital to our country not only because of our long historical, cultural and political links, not only because of oil supplies but also because about 3.5 million of our countrymen and women live and work there. The Congress's position on the Iraq crisis has been clear from the beginning. We believe that whatever action has to be taken must flow out of an explicit and clear UN mandate. We deplore any attempt to weaken the authority of the UN. We hope that India will also take an active part in diplomatic efforts to defuse the current tensions.
In just a few days, the 13th Non-Aligned Summit is to be held in Kuala Lumpur. NAM must be imparted a new sense of purpose and direction, keeping in mind contemporary global and regional challenges.
We are also meeting in the backdrop of an escalating war of words between India and Pakistan. There can be no doubt whatsoever that Pakistan continues to foment cross-border terrorism and that sections of its ruling establishment simply do not want normal relations to prevail between the two countries. Having said this, I should also say that the BJP, the VHP and the RSS are not averse to using our confrontation with Pakistan to polarise our own society.

You are aware that the Congress Working Committee met on January 5th. It passed an important resolution on the current political situation and I would like every one of you to re-read it and widely project what it contains. In the resolution, the CWC has drawn a distinction between respect for the cultural, spiritual and philosophical traditions of Hindu Dharma and the Hindu way of life and the political misuse of Hinduism to spread hate. When I spoke at the launch of the People's Integration Council some days back, I expanded on this theme. Our fight has to be against religious fundamentalism, obscurantism and bigotry of all kinds. Our adversaries are those who distort the basic values of all of the great religions that are practiced in our country. Let us be under no illusions: the BJP and its allied organisations will stoop to any level, spread any falsehood to achieve their goals. We must and we will not permit them to do so. We will go the people with our message of social inclusiveness and harmony. We will go to the people to convince them that those who appoint themselves as guardians of any faith and use it for partisan purposes, are, in fact, distorting the very essence of that faith.

On the Ayodhya issue, we have all along stated that we should wait for and respect the verdict of the judiciary and till then nothing should be done to disturb the status quo. The judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in 1994 on the acquisition of land in Ayodhya had specifically forbidden the handing over of any part of the 67 acres of acquired land to any party before the final settlement of the main Ayodhya title deed. I am sure that all attempts presently being made to misinterpret that judgment will eventually be frustrated.
This is the Budget session and therefore economic issues will preoccupy us in the weeks ahead. While the performance of the Indian economy on the external front appears satisfactory, we hope that the Budget will provide the right signals and incentives for reviving the investment momentum, both in the public and private sectors, in agriculture and industry. With unprecedented food grain stocks and foreign exchange reserves, this is the right time for a major national programme to expand and deepen rural infrastructure, particularly in the backward regions of the country. On tax reforms, we are all for simplicity and transparency, we are all for making the tax administration more effective. But there has also to be stability in tax policy, without which investors, domestic and foreign, will not get the right signals. We also believe long-term savings have to be stimulated. Social security has to be introduced in a comprehensive manner, particularly for workers in the unorganised sector who constitute over 90% of the country's work force. We expect that funding for all anti-poverty, rural development and social welfare programmes will not only be fully protected but also enhanced substantially with greater responsibility devolving upon states and panchayat institutions for their implementation. We have been calling for special programmes like food-for-work and cooked mid-day meals but we have not heard anything from the government. The employment situation is alarming and we are far, far away from creating one crore employment opportunities every year which is needed to meet demographic challenges.
The last session did see a number of important economic Bills being passed as we extended our cooperation in respect of those bills which were in public interest. In the next three months, I am sure pending legislation will be diligently debated. We will express our views both in the concerned Standing Committees and in the House itself. It is said that in a parliamentary system, while the Opposition has its say, the ruling party has its way. Considering the importance of many of these Bills, I do hope that our suggestions are taken seriously. We will make every effort to be constructive and the only guiding principle, as always will be the national interest.
I trust you have availed of the winter break to peruse the 600-page JPC report on the stock market and UTI scams. While a discussion on technical matters might await the submission of Government's ATR on the Report, there is an immediate and pressing need to discuss the government's executive responsibility for the numerous sins of omission and commission exposed by the JPC.
The scams occurred because the NDA government was intent on stoking a bogus "feel good factor" in the stock market to compensate for its very poor performance in the real economy. So, the NDA government deliberately looked the other way as various brokers, banks, corporate entities and UTI took advantage of gaping loopholes left wide open in the laws and regulations to keep the wholly artificial boom going.
It is poor governance that is the root cause of both the scams. And all through the 18 months that the scams were played out, that is from the last quarter of 1999 to the first quarter of 2001, the NDA was in office.
It is not enough to hold officials and subordinate authorities alone responsible for all that went wrong. As the JPC points out, in the scheme of constitutional jurisprudence under which our parliamentary system works, it is ministers who are responsible to the country through Parliament. These questions we will be raising in both Houses.
In the next few days, elections in four states will be held and in another eight -nine months, elections in five more states are due. We will be kept very busy. We will have to counter the malicious propaganda mounted against us by the BJP. We will have to project our achievements and programmes in the states where we are in power. Above all, we have to remain united and disciplined. There is no magic formula for our success except dedicated work among the people and a sense of collective purpose at all times, submerging individual ambitions in the larger cause of the party.
Let me end as I always do by pleading for maximum attendance and for the most informed and active participation on our part in both Houses in the weeks ahead.

This article is posted by Press Brief.

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