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Tuesday 22 January 2013

Citizens are fed up with corruption

Citizens are fed up with corruption

Sonia Gandhi says the Congress must “recognise the new changing India, an India increasingly peopled by a younger, more impatient, more demanding and better educated generation… Our youth are getting more assertive and want their voice to be heard”

Excerpted from Congress president Sonia Gandhi's address at the party's "Chintan Shivir" in Jaipur on January 18
Sonia Gandhi addresses the party's "Chintan Shivir" in Jaipur Sonia Gandhi addresses the party's "Chintan Shivir" in Jaipur
This interaction is different in at least two respects from ourprevious sessions in Panchmarhi and Shimla. First, it is taking place at a time when we have been in government at the Centre for almost nine years. It is also taking place when we are not governing in a number of states and when we face serious challenges in states long considered our bastions. Second, the last nine years have been a period of tremendous economic growth, social change and technological innovation. New aspirations are manifesting themselves. They call for new responses.
There is yet another special dimension to this conclave. A significant number of participants are from the younger generation. This reflects our priorities and resonates with the demographic reality of our country.
Five broad themes
Friends, we have five broad themes to discuss today and tomorrow. First, the political challenges we face. Second, the emerging social and economic concerns that we should take note of and respond to. Third, issues relating to continued discrimination against and atrocities on women and children, and what more must be done for their empowerment. Fourth, India's changing role in a rapidly evolving regional and global environment. And fifth matters relating to the Party organization itself, especially those that have a bearing on our electoral performance. Without wanting to anticipate your deliberation I would like to share some thoughts with you on each of these themes.
The Congress has many distinctive characteristics and there are compelling arguments the Congress way of thinking and the Congress way of doing things. We are the only pan-Indian party, the only political party with a visible and vibrant position every village in every basti, in every mohalla of the country.
Inclusive by conviction
We have a proven track record of accomplishment. We appeal to all sections of society. We articulate and champion the concerns of all but especially of the weaker section - dalits, adivasis, minorities and women. We have always given the highest priority to the interests and concerns of farmers and agricultural labour. Inclusiveness for us is not a political ploy only to win elections or run governments. Inclusiveness is anchored in our conviction.
It is not the outcome of any compulsion as it may be for some of our political opponents. We are the only party witch believes that development and economic growth on the one hand, and social harmony and social justice on the other, are two sides of the same coin. But while we continue to be the nation's pre-eminent political party, we must admit that we now face increased competition and inroads have been made into our traditional support bases. There are some states where we have been out of office for too long. And although I do believe that being in power is not the sole purpose of political activity, this does have an adverse impact on our morale and organizational ability. In states in which we are in alliance, we have to strike a balance between respecting these alliances and ensuring that the party's rejuvenation is not compromised.
Impressive growth
Since 2004, the Congress-led UPA government under Dr. Manmohan Singhji's leadership has introduced truly revolutionary programmes and enacted historic legislation flowing from our manifesto. But in some states, the party has not been able to translate this into political support. I hope this will be discussed and that concrete suggestions will emerge. Economic growth over the past decade has been impressive.
This has had major impact on reducing poverty. But our fight against inequality and poverty is s continuing one. This is why it is important to sustain our poverty alleviation programmes. There are success stories of development in state after state. But it is also true that while the footprint of achievement is expanding - there are still parts of our country which remain backward. And it is also true that while the Centre releases huge financial resources to states, the impact depends significantly on implementation at the local level - which is often wanting. Our party must remain in the forefront in calling for urgent remedial actions.
We see various protest movements across the country, relating to land, forest, water and livelihood, tribal and gender issues. Our party must proactively take up these causes. Around one crore youth seek productive jobs year after year. No other country faces such a challenge. Mahatma Gandhi NREGA has demonstrated its utility in rural areas. But the country has to pay far greater attention to skilled employment, especially in semi-urban and urban areas. This requires us to be pragmatic in encouraging investment, which is the only way our employment goals can be achieved. It is the lack of employment that thwarts aspirations and also fuels frustration, crime and violence. Just a little over a decade ago, when we were not in government at the Centre, we has organized a large Mahila Sashaktikaran Adhiveshan in New Delhi.
We had prepared a specific agenda for action. Our UPA government has taken this agenda forward. New programmes have been launched. New laws have been enacted. The women's self-help group movement has received a huge impetus. There are now over 12 lakh elected women representatives in institution of local self-government.
Atrocities on women
But I must say with the greatest anguish and pain that discrimination against the girl child continues. Atrocities on women, both in urban and rural India, are a blot on our collective conscience and a matter of great shame. The way we still treat widows, the prevalence of female foeticide even in economically prosperous regions, the trafficking of children and women, brazen sexual harassment - these are all very disturbing trends that should shake and awaken us.
Gender issues are fundamental. They should be of concern to all of us. It is not just the Mahila Congress or women's organizations that should be in the forefront. The entire party must understand them, and bring them to the heart of our political activity and change mindsets. India's foreign policy has always had a vision, a vision of our country occupying its rightful place and exercising its unique influence in world affairs. That place and that influence will be significantly enhanced by successfully overcoming poverty, improving our economic performance, deepening our secular values, strengthening our democratic institutions and engaging constructively with the international community.
Relations with neighbours
Better and closer relations with our immediate neighbours will not only make for regional peace - they will also have a positive impact on some of our own border states. However, let us be clear. Our dialogue must be based on accepted principles of civilized behaviour. We will never compromise on our vigil and preparedness to deal with terrorism and threats on our borders.
Let me turn to some pressing organisational matter. It is not the case that we have squandered many opportunities that people are willing to give us simply because we have been unable to function as a disciplined and united team? In states where we are out of power especially, we should be coming together, setting aside personal ambitions and egos, and working cohesively so that the Party triumphs. Why do we forget the simple truth that in the Party's victory lies the victory of each and every one of us? Unity will come not from pious declarations of intent. It has to come from within. Unity is the cry of each and every worker of our great organization and it is our sacred duty to respond to it. We must build leadership at all levels, a leadership that is proactive and that is not afraid of moving forward, and taking up issues and programmes which highlight the concerns and aspirations of the people. Performance, not patronage, must be the ladder to advancement in the party.
Rising aspirations
And seeing so many of our younger colleagues here, I am tempted to say something on a subject that has always bothered me. And this relates to our lifestyles. Celebrating weddings, festivals and happy event is one thing - but what of lavish and ostentatious displays of wealth, pomp and status? Does this not beg the question, where is this wealth coming from? I hope that you will take this seriously and come up with suggestions and norms that we may all accept and adhere to. We have to recognize the new changing India, an India increasingly peopled by a younger, more aspirations, more impatient, more demanding and better educated generation.
This is a natural and welcome outcome of rapid economic and social change that has been brought about by the success of our programmes to educate, to empower and indeed to unshackle the oppressed and disadvantaged. Our youth is getting more assertive, it wants its voice to be heard. Across the length and breadth of our country, our people are expecting much more from their political parties. Aided by the tools of the modern world - television, social media, mobile phones and the Internet - today's India is better informed and better equipped to communicate. The laws that we devised, such as the Right to Information, and the technology we facilitated give the people the ability to seek more from their elected representatives : better delivery, stronger responsiveness, greater accountability and, ultimately, demonstrable integrity.
Our citizens are rightly fed up with the levels of corruption that they see in public life at high levels, but equally with the corruption they have to deal with in their daily lives. This is a phenomenon, a churning that we must understand and continue to respond to. We cannot allow our growing educated and middle-classes to be disillusioned and alienated from the political process.
Friends, we have much to think about, much to deliberate upon. I want all of you to speak your mind, to be free and frank in whatever you want to say. We are here on serious business which will determine our future. When we are done, we must go forward with a clear and unified sense of purpose. We must go from here recharges and reinvigorated. Let us get down to work straightaway.

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