Congress releases manifesto, names Manmohan for PM

Delhi, March 24, 2009

The Congress today promised greater emphasis to the empowerment of the weaker sections, expansion of schemes for farmers and a nationwide skill development programme in its manifesto for the coming Lok Sabha elections and declared that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would lead the government once again if the party is voted back to office.
The 21-page manifesto, released at the party headquarters today by Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Dr Singh, sought a renewed mandate from the people on the strength of the performance of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government during the last five years.
It also sought the mandate on the basis of its core values and ideology---secularism, nationalism, social justice and economic growth for all, especially for the "aam aadmi" (the common man).
The manifesto said what India today needed most at the national level was a party with an all-India perspective and with an all-India presence. "The Indian National Congress is the only such party," it claimed.
It said the contest between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party was not just a fight between two political parties. "It is, in essence, a clash between two competing visions of Indian nationalism, two competing visions of what India should be," it said.
The Congress said the BJP's narrow and communal nationalism denied equality and equal rights to large sections of our people and rejected many of India's diversities and sought to impose an artificial uniformity on the people.
The party also took a swipe at the so-called Third Front, describing it as a grouping of opportunistic parties, with no consistence, clarity, competence or commitment. It was particularly harsh on the Left parties, saying they were responsible for the electoral growth of the BJP. "As past experience has shown, the Third Front is a recipe for political instability. Lacking a natural national anchor, it is a recipe for chaos, not cohesion," it said.
The manifesto claimed the Congress was the only party that could deal with the scourge of terrorism squarely and decisively but without weakening the delicate strands that have, together, bound Indian society for centuries.
On the whole, the party felt the country more than ever needed the middle path of the Congress.
The manifesto dwelt at length on the achievements of the UPA government over hte last five years and claimed it had kept the promises made in 2004 in "very substantial measure."
For the next five years, it promised measures to ensure that the momentum of growth witnessed in 2004-09 was mantained. It said the focus of the measures would be to stimulate demand in the domestic economy and to ensure that there was more purchasing power in the hands of the people and more liquidity in the hands of companies.
It said the recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission, the National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, the National Farmers Commission, the National Knowledge Commission and the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council would be taken up for implementation in a systematic manner if it returned to power.
The Congress promised to guarantee the maximum possible security to each and every citizen, ensure the highest level of defence preparedness for the country and further steps for the welfare of the defence forces and their families, accelerate the pace of police reforms and build on the success of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).
It promised to enact a National Food Security Act on the lines of the NREGA that will guarantee access to sufficient food for all people. The party pledged that every family living below the poverty line will be entitled, by law, to 25 kgs of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 per kg. Subsidised community kitchens will be set up in all cities for homeless people and migrants with the support of the Central government.
The manifesto guaranteed health security for all and a comprehensive social security for those at special risk. It also promised to make quality education affordable to everyone.
The party said it would democratise and professionalise the working of cooperatives.
Education at all stages---primary, secondary and university---will be free in all respects for students belonging to Dalit and Adivasi communities, it said. It promised more scholarships for weaker sections and said the drive to recruit members belonging to scheduled castes and tribes to fill up vacancies in government would continue. It said it was committed to pursuing affirmative action for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the private sector. It also pledged to carve out a reservation for the economically weaker sections of all communities without prejudice to existing reservations for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward communities (OBCs).
Commiting itself to the welfare of the minorities, the party said an Equal Opportunity Commission would be established by law and promised several other measures in this direction.
It said it would ensure that the Bill for reserving one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislatures for women was passed in the 15th Lok Sabha.
The manifesto listed several other measures it would take for various disadvantaged sections of society, including persons with disabilities. It promised a sharp focus on the special needs of children, especially the girl child.
The Congress promised to combat communalism of all kinds and caste atrocities with determination.
It said elected panchayat institutions would be made financially strong and all villages would be connected to a broadband network in three years. It promised special focus on the small entrepreneur and on small and medium enterprises.
It said the goods and service tax would be introduced from April 1 next year. It promised a completely new look to urban governance and a new deal to the youth to participate in governance.
The party also promised steps to protect the environment and said it would carry out a massive renewal of India's extensive science and technology infrastructure.
It promised judicial reforms to cut delays in courts.
The party said it would continue to be sensitive to regional aspirations, ensure energy security for the country, preserve and promote India's heritage and continue to pursue an independent, pro-India foreign policy.
The Congress also promised to intensify the involvement of overseas Indians in development.
Answering questions on who the party's Prime Ministerial candidate would be, Mrs Gandhi said it was Dr Singh and asserted there was no change in her stand on this question.
She declined comment on a question whether the party would take the support of the Left parties after the elections, staying that such issues would be decided after the results.
Dr Singh used the opportunity to hit out at the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate L K Advani, who had described him as the weakest Prime Minister ever, and said the record of the two while in office spoke volumes.
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