The Congress on Thursday said it planned to launch a series of protests and demonstrations across the country from October 15 to 25, in the midst of the festive season, to highlight the poor state of the economy.
Faced with the challenge to revitalize party structure, arrest the erosion in its ranks but also to find a language to connect with people, particularly the youth, the Congress unveiled a slew of programmes.
It will have conventions across the country to highlight the "economic slowdown" from September 20 to 30. It will hold padyatras across the country on October 2, and organise other events from October 3 to 9, to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and spread the message of the values that he devoted his life for. The Congress will launch a programme to train party workers to explain its vision of nationalism and secularism and carry out a membership drive. It claimed that its current membership was 2 crore.
At a meeting of the party leaders in the national capital, Congress president Sonia Gandhi implored party leadership to have a “concrete agitational agenda” to go directly to the people instead of merely being aggressive on social media.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said the country was today in the midst of a “dangerously protracted slowdown”. He said an atmosphere of “gloom and doom” prevailed with at least a million on the brink of losing jobs, unless the government intervened with a stimulus package, in only the automobile sector. He said there was no sign the government was thinking of a clear plan of action to arrest this economic slowdown, and indulging only in "cosmetic" measures.
Thursday’s was the first meeting that Sonia Gandhi has chaired of the party after taking over as its president a month back. As many as 32 leaders spoke at the meeting. A notable speech was of Tripura Congress unit chief Pradyot Deb Barman. The 40-year-old said it had become difficult to explain the values that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru stood for to people who are 10-years younger to him, and the challenge was to be able to communicate with the youth.
Sonia said that those who have quit the Congress in recent times have "revealed their opportunistic character". She asked Congress-run state governments to start implementing the party's manifestos or else the party “will lose people’s support with obvious consequence”.
In his speech, Singh said the economic situation in the country was “going from bad to worse”, and the “dangerous thing about the present situation is that government is complacent enough” not to accept that there is a protracted economic slowdown.
The former PM spoke of the GDP in the last quarter dropping to 5 per cent, and that it has declined for five successive quarters. He recalled how the UPA1 government had turned the economic crisis of 2008-09 into an opportunity to revitalize the economy. He said there was gloom in agriculture, manufacturing and real estate sectors.
Singh said worse was to follow if the situation was not reversed, particularly on the jobs front. He spoke of the drop in agricultural growth from 3.5 per cent last year to 2.7 per cent, and the “dangerous point” being that the real wage rate in the agriculture sector has been static in the last five years of the BJP government’s rule. Similar, he said, was the state of the manufacturing sector with demand going down. In the real estate sector, he said there were 4.5 lakh dwelling units lying vacant in the eight major metropolitan centres.
The former PM said the rupee was “getting weaker and weaker and one would take advantage” of the weakening of the rupee to push up exports, but exports in the last five years have been sluggish or stagnant, with the result that the balance of payment situation is getting worse. The former PM said investment is not picking up, and the automobile sector is "crying for help from the government". He said the perception in the industry is that if the present trend was not reversed, there would be a million people who might lose their jobs in the sector.
Singh said the expectation is that the government would come up with a package to stimulate demand to promote investment, but the feeling in the industry is that there is tax terrorism in place of incentivizing investment. He said this is the reason for sluggish private sector investments, and no sign that it will pick up, and the stock markets showing the sign of this atmosphere of gloom. He said the responsibility of the Congress to tell the people that the promises made by the BJP are being ignored. On the PM’s announcement of India becoming a $ 5 trillion economy by 2024, Singh said it now looked like a "pipe dream". He said India would need to grow by 12 per cent each year in nominal terms and by 9 per cent in real terms to achieve that.
Sonia Gandhi also spoke of the “prolonged economic slump, when job losses are mounting by the day, when the confidence of the investors is getting shakier by the day, when the government appears more and more clueless and insensitive by the day”. She said “vendetta politics is at its peak”, people who speak out against the ruling establishment are being threatened and intimidated. “Each and every institution is being diabolically subverted. The voices of dissent are being silenced,” Sonia said, adding that “democracy has never been at greater peril than it is now.”
Sonia, who took over from her son as the party chief, said “the mandate of 2019 is now being misused and abused in a most dangerous fashion”, and the country was looking to the Congress to “confront and combat these forces”, which have appropriated Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and B.R. Ambedkar and “misrepresent their true message for their nefarious ends”. “We must stand up fearlessly to fight on the streets, fight in villages, towns and cities. We must have a concrete agitational agenda on issues of pressing concern to the people—whether they be economic or social,” she said. Sonia said it was “not enough to be active and aggressive on the social media even though that too is needed and we need to do that better”. “Far more important is to go to the people directly,” she said.
Sonia said the party’s resolve and resilience is under severe test. She said there were elections in three states. “The situation is challenging and it is only if we keep party interests and nothing else other than party interests uppermost in our minds, that we will regain our lost position,” she said.