2014 will be a battle for India, says combative Sonia

New Delhi, Jan 17: In a combative speech that sounded like an election bugle for a beleaguered party facing widespread public resentment, particularly from the middle class, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said that Friday the “divisive” ideology of BJP will only end up dividing the country, adding that the April-May Lok Sabha elections will be “a battle for India” and its secular traditions.

In her opening address at the All India Congress Committee meeting at the Talkatora Stadium here, Sonia Gandhi exhorted party workers to keep up their spirit of meeting challenges and expressed confidence that the party will emerge victorious in the struggles ahead.

“We assemble here as the 2014 Lok Sabha elections approach. We meet today to send a clear signal that the Congress is ready and prepared for the battle ahead,” she said.

Referring to the Bharatiya Janata Party as the “main political adversary”, Gandhi said its path was of “dividing the society” on communal lines.

In a hard-hitting speech that started off in English and then switched to Hindi, Gandhi accused the BJP of spreading radicalism and hatred. “In the name of unity, they want to impose uniformity. Their way is to hide their real face behind artificial politeness. It is to criticise our leaders and make false allegations against them. And it is even to spread violence. How can such ideology be tolerated,” she said.

BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is a trenchant critic of the Congress and has been urging people to work for “Congress-free” India.

Sonia Gandhi said that Lok Sabha elections will be a sharpening contest between conflicting ideologies, between competing interpretations of the past and between clashing visions of the future”.

“These elections will be a battle for India as it was conceived by our founding fathers and as we cherish. It will be a battle for the preservation of our age-old secular traditions, traditions of diverse communities living harmoniously in one composite national identity,” she said.

The UPA chairperson said: “The Congress has faced many difficult times in the past. Much harder than today. But we have never lost heart. We have repeatedly demonstrated our resilience by remaining committed to our vision, to our values and the beliefs that have always sustained them.”

“Our party is woven into the fabric of this nation from its very conception as a modern nation state.”

In an apparent effort to boost morale of party workers following the party’s drubbing in recent assembly polls, Sonia Gandhi said they had given strength to the organization without consideration of reward.

“Such workers who never accept defeat, I greet them,” she said.

She said Congress had faced ups and downs but adjusted to conditions and kept itself relevant.

“One more thing that we have had is the spirit to fight. I have full faith that in the coming days, this resolve will be strengthened further and we will fight the challenges resolutely. We will have one resolve, one voice, one task and we will emerge victorious in the struggle,” she said.

Before beginning of her speech, Sonia Gandhi made it clear that there will be no rethink on party’s decision to make party vice-president and her son Rahul Gandhi the chief of campaign for 2014 polls and not the prime ministerial candidate.

“The decision taken by the party’s working committee yesterday is final,” Sonia Gandhi said as party workers raised slogans hailing Rahul Gandhi and a few of them displayed posters demanding his appointment as prime ministerial candidate.

In her speech, Sonia Gandhi said that disparities were “still painfully widespread” despite impressive economic growth.

She said lack of equality in opportunities posed a danger and education was the means to tackle the problem.

The Congress president, whose speech evoked intermittent clapping, also referred to initiatives of UPA government to fight corruption and enact rights based legislations.

She said that the United Progressive Alliance government had more achievements than any other government in the past.

Lauding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, she said he had led the government with great dignity despite obstacles from the opposition.

She said secularism was an article of faith for the Congress and not a mere election slogan.

Sonia Gandhi said that the policies of UPA government had raised expectations of people and led to rise of middle class.

“Sometimes it feels that there has been some deficiency in meeting these expectations,” she said.

Sonia Gandhi said Congress was the only party which was present in each locality of the country and had brought millions of people out of poverty .

Indo-Asian News Service

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IANS