Congress President Sonia Gandhi has set the tone of discussion for Congress’ Chintan Shivir that began in Jaipur on Friday. As the party readies for the 2014 elections, Sonia Gandhi urged the Congress workers to take stock of party’s strengths, weaknesses and threats and warned that the middle-class, with which the party hopes to reconnect, is fed up with corruption that they face 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," said Sonia Gandhi. She also pointed out that people were now better informed and equipped than ever before and that their expectation from their government had also grown. She reminded the younger Congressmen and women, a big chunk of the 350 people invited, to be austere. An extravagant show of money, she said, would lead to the question - where does the wealth come from?
In her address, Sonia Gandhi talked about the Congress' nine years of rule at the Centre and what it had gained and lost in that time. She touched upon coalition politics, Indo-Pak relations, gender issues and crime against women and corruption, and exhorted those gathered to "speak your mind - as we are here on business that will determine our future".
That is an immediate future, with General Elections due next year. "There is increased competition and inroads have been made in our traditional strongholds. We have to strike a fine balance between respecting alliances and ensuring rejuvenation of the party," Mrs Gandhi said, adding: "We are the only pan Indian party with a visible and viable position in every village. We articulate the concerns of all, especially the weaker sections of the society. Inclusiveness is anchored in our conviction, not the outcome of compulsion as it may be for our opponents."
The Congress hopes to emerge from the two-day-long session armed with strategy on, among other things, how to address an alienation from the middle class, seen most recently when the government it leads was found grossly inadequate in its response to spontaneous protests after the brutal gang-rape and torture of a 23-year-old medical student in a moving bus in Delhi last month.
Sonia Gandhi said, "Discrimination against the girl child and atrocities against women are a blot on our collective conscience. Sexual harassment, women trafficking and female foeticide should shake us and awaken us...Gender issues are fundamental and the entire party must bring this to the heart of political activity and change mindsets."
At a meeting on women's issues that she attended with son Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi said gender sensitivity should begin at home.