Congress eyes image correction

OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT – THE CALCUTTA TELEGRAPH
New Delhi, April 7: The Congress is hoping Sonia Gandhi will give its and the government’s image a “much-needed corrective” when she addresses party workers on the national rural job guarantee scheme on May 26 in Delhi.
The party, which came to power with the slogan Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath, feels the scheme — the most “positive affirmation” of its government’s commitment to the common minimum programme — has not been projected properly.
According to feedback the party has, there are over 70 lakh applicants for jobs under this scheme but this “positive” has been negated by other complaints.
“Our feedback is the BJP-ruled states are either scuttling the scheme or taking away credit for it by giving it another name,” a Congress worker from Chhattisgarh said.
In Congress-ruled states, grassroots functionaries are reported to be using the scheme as a source of power and patronage to build networks of clients rather than as a poverty relief measure.
The job scheme is not the only worry for the Congress. There is a feeling among sections in the party that the government has veered away from the letter and spirit of the common minimum programme and is going the NDA’s India Shining way.
“An impression is going around that the only events that excite the government are the rising sensex, FDI inflow and the Indo-US relations,” a source said.
A general secretary said there were fears the party had lost chunks of the traditionally committed tea garden votes in Assam because packages announced by the Centre and the state were “pocketed” by intermediaries and never reached the intended beneficiaries.
The sources feared such an image could affect the outcome of the two big elections of 2007 in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat and trigger disquiet in the Left.
Among the recent incidents that could reinforce the “anti-people” image were the Delhi slum demolitions and the protests by the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the Bhopal gas victims, the sources said.
Although the slum dwellers were served quit notices by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi in March, the order had been issued by Delhi High Court in December 2005. “We failed to explain this fact and we are getting all the flak for obeying a legal directive,” a Congress MLA said.
The MLA pointed out that while Congress leaders were protesting the demolition of shops in residential areas, they were silent about the slums. “A message has gone out that we have taken up cudgels only on behalf of the traders who are traditionally not our voters,” the MLA said.
A member of the Congress’s media cell said he froze each time he appeared in TV discussions on Narmada and Bhopal.
“It’s easier to deal with the Opposition than the NGOs,” he said.
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