PM's speech at the AICC Session
I welcome you all to this historic Session being held in the 125th year of the Congress party. It is a matter of great pleasure for me to participate in this Session and to have an opportunity to share my thoughts with you.
This Session of All India Congress Committee gives us an occasion to think of ways in which we can uphold our party's principles. Today we must think on how we can best rededicate ourselves to the proud heritage of Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Azad. The heritage of integrity in public life; the heritage of secularism and tolerance; the heritage of working for building a new and strong India.
Today we must honour Shrimati Indira Gandhi's dictum that every Congress worker's first obligation is to serve the masses. Today we must remember the contribution of Shri Rajiv Gandhi who made us aware of the challenges of the 21st century and showed us how we could face them.
It is our good fortune that we have the opportunity to work under Shrimati Sonia Gandhi's leadership. Shrimati Gandhi’s humility, her belief in principled politics, and her deep commitment to make the Congress a strong political organization inspire and empower us.
The Congress party has played a major role in India’s journey on the road to progress and development. For the last 125 years, our party has worked for developing and strengthening India. But we still have a long way to go. I have said this before and I say it again the Congress is the only party which can carry all sections of our society and the aam aadmi in our country’s march forward. The Congress alone can provide stability to India. Only the Congress can secure for our country its rightful place in the comity of nations. If the Congress is strengthened, it will be able to strengthen our country. Therefore, as an ordinary worker of this great party, I would like to appeal to all of you to work hard and with dedication and commitment to make the Congress strong and vibrant.
This Session is taking place at a time when various charges are being levelled against our party and our Government. Our objectives and principles are being suspected. Our record is being questioned for partisan political ends. It is being alleged that we are not sufficiently sensitive to the issue of corruption. On this count, I want to make our Government's and our Party's stand unambiguously clear. We have always strived to eradicate corruption and we will continue to do so. Our approach to corruption also gets clearly reflected in our actions. Whether at the Centre or in the States, we have asked our Ministers and Chief Ministers to step down merely on the basis of suspicion because we practice and believe in principled politics. We are not like some opposition parties which insist on retaining their tainted Chief Ministers despite scandal after scandal. We are conducting a thorough probe in all aspects of the organization of the Commonwealth Games and the 2G Spectrum allocation. These inquiries will be pursued vigorously. And it is my promise to you that no guilty person will be spared - whether he is a political leader or a government official, whichever party he may belong to and howsoever powerful he may be. I also want to tell you, and through you to all our citizens, that if there are any shortcomings in the functioning of our government, we will address them so that we can be more effective in our efforts to contain corruption. I seek the co-operation of all members of the Congress party in this endeavour. As responsible citizens, it is our obligation that we raise our voice against corrupt ways. If you come across corrupt practices, you must make your best effort to prevent and expose them.
We wanted to discuss all these issues in Parliament. But one entire session got wasted because of the opposition's obduracy. It is difficult to comprehend the opposition's insistence that only a JPC should probe the 2G Spectrum matter. All aspects of the 2G Spectrum allocation are being probed anyway. As soon as the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General was received, the concerned Minister resigned. As per the relevant rules, the report has been sent to the Public Accounts Committee. We have even proposed that a multi-disciplinary investigative agency can help the Committee in its work. As far as the allegations of corruption in Spectrum allocation are concerned, the CBI is looking into them and now this investigation will be monitored by the Supreme Court. Besides this, a retired Supreme Court Judge has been appointed to examine any administrative and procedural lapses that may have occurred in the 2G Spectrum allocation. TAX aspects of the case if any are being enquire into by the income tax department. Money laundering aspects if any are being enquired into by the enforcement directorate. After all this action, it is difficult to understand what other aspects of the matter can a JPC investigate.
Parliament is the best forum to keep a watch on and improve the functioning of the Government. Parliament is at the centre of our democratic edifice. One wonders what kind of politics the opposition believes in when they do not have faith even in Parliament.
Friends, you know that the CAG report on the 2 G spectrum is being examined by the PAC which itself is a Joint Parliamentary Committee presided over by a senior leader of the BJP. Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi. The PAC has all the powers which can be given to a JPC and the PAC is the acknowledged watchdog of any financial impropriety or misconduct. The PAC's report will be placed before Parliament and will be debated in Parliament. The government is obliged to take action on the recommendations of the PAC. Government is of the considered view that in the background of multifaceted action now in place no purpose will be served by a JPC, except to delay the inquiry and politicize the matter.
The BJ P has been falsely propagating that the UPA government is against the JPC because we do not want the Prime Minister to be questioned by a Parliamentary Committee, thereby implying that I have something to hide. I wish to state categorically that I have nothing to hide from the public at large and as a proof of my bonafides I intend to write to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee that I shall be happy to appear before the PAC if it chooses to ask me to do so. As Prime Minister of this great country for six and a half years, I have tried to serve my country to the best of my ability. I sincerely believe that like Caesar's wife, the Prime Minister should be above suspicion and it is for this reason that I am prepared to appear before the PAC even though there is no precedent to this effect.
As you know, ever since the UPA Government under Congress leadership was formed in 2004, our policies and programmes have focused on giving the aam aadmi a better deal. It has been our endeavour to include all regions of our country, all sections of our society, our farmers and labourers, our Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe brothers and sisters and our minorities as equal partners in India’s growth. Fifty years ago, Pandit Nehru had told an AICC Session "we should remember that whatever we desire, it is for the 360 million people of the country and not for any small group or individuals. It does not mean that everybody will get everything but absolutely equal opportunity should be given to all the 360 million people. This cannot be achieved suddenly by magic or law. It will take time. But nevertheless we must move in that direction and must move fast." Our Government remains guided and inspired by Pandit Nehru's mantra.
In the last General Elections, we had asked for a renewed mandate on the basis of the work we had done for the welfare of the aam aadmi. We had sought a mandate on the basis of initiatives like the Rural Employment Programme, the loan waiver scheme for farmers and the Bharat Nirman programme. We had sought a mandate on the basis of our work for the welfare of our farmers and for enhancing agricultural production. We had promised that if we were to form the Government again, we would protect and strengthen our secular fabric and improve governance through initiatives like the RTI Act. We had promised that we will accelerate our initiatives for the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, minorities and other weaker sections of the society. We had sought a mandate to strengthen our security and to build a new image of India on the global stage. We got the mandate we had sought. It is our endeavour now that we remove our shortcomings and improve our performance.
I appeal to every Congress worker to help us in implementation of government schemes so that the Congress party can achieve its basic objective of serving the masses.
In our 2009 election manifesto, we had cautioned the country that the world was confronted with the worst economic crisis in 50 years. This economic crisis disrupted markets all over the world. We had promised to the people of India that we will do our best to negotiate these difficult conditions. We had specifically promised that "the Indian National Congress will put in place measures to ensure that the momentum of growth is maintained."
It is a matter of enormous satisfaction that we have fulfilled our promise. Despite the global economic crisis, we have maintained a healthy rate of growth. In the last two quarters, our growth rate has been 8.9% and we expect that for the entire year it will be around 8.5%. We also expect that from the next year onward we will be able to grow at a rate between 9 and 10%.
Because of this increased rate of growth, we will be able to invest more resources in the social sector, in education and in health. We will endeavour to effectively implement the Right to Education Act in collaboration with the State governments. Today, practically every child in our country has access to elementary education. We will now give special attention to secondary education also. In higher education, we propose to bring Bills before Parliament to set up a National Council for Higher Education and to establish Innovation Universities. In health, our endeavour will be to provide basic health care to every citizen through programmes like the National Rural Health Mission. This Mission will now particularly focus on communicable diseases.
In agriculture, our emphasis will be on increasing productivity and production. This year we have had a good monsoon. Our granaries are full with wheat and rice. We want no citizen of our country to go to bed hungry. We are committed to put in place the National Food Security Act. We also intend to improve the Public Distribution System so that the socially and economically weaker sections of our society become the true beneficiaries of the Food Security Act. For this, both the Centre and the State Governments will have to work together. I urge all Congress activists to create awareness among people so that dispensations like the Public Distribution System become effective in real terms. We have achieved some success in improving the state of our infrastructure. We will accelerate our efforts in this direction. Roads, airports, railways and power supply will be improved so that infrastructural deficiencies do not impede our growth processes.
The special initiatives for the welfare of minorities will be strengthened. These include the multi-sectoral development programme for districts with high concentration of minorities and the scholarship schemes for minority students. We have also made special efforts for the welfare of women and children. We know malnutrition among children is a cause for serious national concern. I have given instructions in a recent meeting of the Prime Minister’s National Council for improvements in the ICDS programme so that we can move forward in resolving this problem.
The government is putting finishing touches to the Rajiv Gandhi Awaas Yojana for giving property rights to people living in slums. This is a part of our promise to make India a slum-free country.
We need to be mindful of environmental concerns in all our developmental projects. Our land and water resources are limited and we have to use them prudently. We will give particular attention to preserving our forests, mountains and rivers. We will make all efforts to mitigate air and water pollution.
Inflation remains a cause for serious concern in our country. We have made all the efforts to contain inflation and we will continue to do so. In recent days, the rate of inflation has come down to 7.5%. We expect this downward trend to continue and the rate of inflation to stabilize around 5.5% by next March.
Today, India is looked upon in the world with respect and admiration. In the days to come, we will become even more important on the global stage. We will increasingly have to work with the international community in many areas. Simultaneously, we will have to remain faithful to our own principles also.
The purpose of our foreign policy is to work in a peaceful environment with other nations for the benefit of India as well as the world community. It is a matter of some satisfaction that by the end of this year leaders of all the five permanent member countries of the UN Security Council will have visited India. Our ties with Russia have traditionally been friendly and warm. We are confident that our relations with them will continue to be excellent in the future also. We are improving our relationship with the United States and other major western powers. As part of our Look East Policy, we have paid special attention to our relations with East Asian and South East Asian countries. We have either finalized or are in the process of finalizing economic cooperation agreements with a number of East Asian and South Asian countries. Our relations with the Gulf and African countries have always been excellent and we will seek to consolidate these ties. We believe that there is great potential for working together with China, especially in economic matters. We have some outstanding issues with them which we hope to resolve in an atmosphere of friendship.
We desire good relations with our neighbours which are beneficial to all countries of the region. We want a peaceful and prosperous South Asia, free from the curse of terrorism. We believe that rather than quarrelling with other nations, countries of South Asia should fight poverty, disease and unemployment. We have had a tense relationship with Pakistan. However, we wish them well. We want friendly relations with Pakistan. But we know that this will be possible only when our neighbour will see to it that its territory is not used for terrorist activities against us.
The last Lok Sabha elections had taken place within a few months of the horrible terrorist attack in Mumbai. After our re-election, we have endeavoured our best to strengthen our national security. We have augmented the Central Para-Military Forces, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The National Security Guard has set up hubs at Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Mumbai. We have strengthened the Multi-Agency Centre to enable the security agencies to get timely intelligence inputs. Vigilance and patrolling on the border have been made more effective. Coastal security has been shored up. The National Investigation Agency has started its work. Since the Mumbai 2008 attack, terrorist activities have come down. However, the Pune bomb blast in last February and the recent incident in Varanasi remind us of the need to constantly remain on our guard. The fight against terrorism is a long one and we are fully prepared for it.
Naxalism is a serious challenge for us. To face this challenge, we need to rise above partisan politics and the Centre and the States have to work together. We are extending all possible assistance to the State Governments to fight Naxalism. We have implemented a plan to help the State Governments in strengthening their capabilities. However, Naxalism cannot be dealt with only through security measures. We cannot overlook that there is a developmental aspect to the problem. We have sanctioned an Integrated Action Plan for 60 districts most affected by Naxal violence so that we can accelerate developmental activity in those districts. While it would be unrealistic to expect immediate success, we are confident that after some time these initiatives will yield results. In Naxalite affected areas we will also have to ensure that our policies and programmes are guided by principles of social justice and equity and that our administrative apparatus is sensitive to the needs of the vulnerable sections of the society, especially our Adivasi brothers and sisters.
The Congress Party derives its strength from the hard work and commitment of its ordinary workers. Our policies and programmes evolve out of the understanding and ideas of millions of our workers. These workers are in touch with the ground realities. They understand the aam aadmi’s difficulties and problems. They help the Party align its approach with the hopes and aspirations of the masses. I want to congratulate the millions of ordinary Congress workers for their sincerity and success. I hope that the tradition of being rooted to the ground realities will become more strong in our party in the time to come.
Because of the high economic growth of the last few years, the pace of change in our country has also become fast. We are facing new challenges, but we also have new opportunities. We have the advantage of new technologies. Our countrymen have new aspirations. We have to factor in all these realities into our thinking. I hope that you will take special note of this aspect.
I do not have the slightest doubt that the Congress has a bright future. We have all that it takes to become a great party. But it is important that from time to time we think about how to remove our shortcomings. Let us re-dedicate ourselves to building a great party and a great nation. Let us collectively strengthen Soniaji's hands.