New Delhi: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi today launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and charged that the NDA government has "dictatorial" tendencies even as her party's leaders met here to draw up a strategy for painting the ruling alliance as being "anti farmer".
In her opening remarks at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party's apex decision-making body, Sonia accused the prime minister of "ignoring provocative statements and speeches" by members of his Cabinet as well as BJP leaders and alleged that it was a continuation of the "strategy of polarisation" adopted during Lok Sabha polls.
With the party facing a depleting support base ever since its debacle in the general elections last year, Sonia asked senior leaders to "propose ways and means to reach out to the masses" at the meeting which was held to deliberate on plans for holding nationwide agitations against the land ordinance and other farmer issues.
On the question of the ordinance, she said, "The country's democratic institutions are being undermined. The BJP-led government has already promulgated 10 ordinances in its seven- month tenure", and added that the NDA dispensation is operating through a "perilous" notion that ordinances constitute goood governance.
She also questioned whether there was "an ulterior motive behind this hurry (to bring ordinances)?"
Accusing the government of having "effectively destroyed" the Land Acquisition Act, which was brought in by the Congress -led UPA, she said that NDA "brought back, through the back door, the law passed by the British in 1894."
At the meeting which went on for four hours, the party also discussed organisational issues like re-introducing the active-member concept, bringing down the tenure of elected office bearers from five to three years and providing 50 per cent reservation to SC, ST, OBC and minorities in district and state committees of the party.
Also at the meeting, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi made a strong pitch for empowering grassroots workers and delegating powers to block presidents.
Meanwhile, scotching media speculation regarding elevation of Rahul as the Congress president, AICC general secretary Ambika Soni said the matter was not on the agenda of CWC and there was no discussion in that regard at the meeting.
"That was not on the agenda. What was not on the agenda cannot be disccused... When we are getting the help of both, why are you talking about it again and again," she said when asked whether anybody had raised the issue of Rahul's elevation.
"In the last few weeks, the true colours and intentions of the Prime Minister and BJP have become abundantly clear. Influential members of the government and the party have been making provocative statements and speeches.
"This is, in many ways, a continuation of the strategy of polarisation adopted by them in last year's Lok Sabha polls as well as in the recent Assembly polls," said Sonia.
Alleging that the Prime Minister has chosen to "ignore" these disturbing statements and speeches, the Congress chief said that raises questions as to "his real agenda, an agenda that causes sharp division, mistrust and hatred among communities, an agenda that can only cause grievous harm to our nation's pluralistic and secular ethos".
Maintaining that it is not just the "dictatorial tendencies" of the government which are a matter of concern but also its "anti-farmer, anti-poor policies", Sonia said that that Modi government's policies have "sown the seeds of acute agrarian crisis".
She further accused the government of having "surreptitiously" undone the spirit of nationalisation of coal mines, which had crucial safeguards, by bringing the ordinance on coal mines.
On the question of Congress's revival, Sonia said that while the previous year was a "challenging one" for the party, she hopes that 2015 will herald a new beginning for it and would be an "occasion to prepare the party" for many more years of service to the country.
Expansion of the party's worker base and changes in its organisational structure were the themes that came up during the CWC deliberations as Sonia set the agenda for the meeting.
Meanwhile, former Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and former Food Minister K V Thomas made a detailed presentation during the meet on the ordinance issue and other decisions of the government affecting farmers, like Minimum Support Price.
The land ordinance issue has offered Congress with an opportunity to reach out to farmers and strengthen its 'aam aadmi' plank, which was hit all the more by its dismal showing in Delhi Assembly polls in 2013 when Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party appeared to have overshadowed that image of the grand old party.
Then came the debacle of the Lok Sabha elections, when Congress recorded its worst-ever tally of 44 seats. There was more bad news for the party in Assembly elections as it lost power in four states -- Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir.
Sonia noted that all Congress workers and leaders have to contribute towards reviving the party's fortunes and acknowledged that both "structural changes and changes in the leadership style are required".
"While it is important that we reflect on shortcomings that caused our defeat both in Lok Sabha (polls) and in recent Assembly elections and on the need to re-energise our party, we need to be extra vigilant about what is happening around us," the Congress chief said as she accused BJP of undermining institutions by following the ordinance route.
She said that a key aspect for the strengthening of Congress would be the expansion of the party's worker base.
"Our organisational structure must be such as to allow for our membership drive to become a force to galvanise our workers. We will use our ongoing membership enrolment programme to launch a mass-contact mission, which has to be unprecedented in scale and scope.
"As we are embarking on registering new members, we have to ensure that our internal processes and systems are sufficiently robust to recognise, reward and nurture talent," the Congress President said before the CWC took up detailed discussion on organisational issues.
Expressing confidence that Congress will bounce back, Sonia said, "The way forward should be that we go back to the people. All of us, from the AICC down to the block level, need to renew ties and connections with people everywhere, listen to their grievances and aspirations and then find a way to articulate their hopes and desires."
She said that a mass political party has to reach out to all sections of society.
"Congress has a historical obligation to renew, reinvigorate and revive itself. This is as much true of the organisation as of the individuals themselves," she added.
Briefing reporters after the meeting, Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said they had held detailed discussions on whether to continue with the five-year tenure for party office bearers, as was enforced through an amendment at the Burari session of Congress in 2010, or go back to the earlier three-year tenure.
"Earlier, there was a provision for two kinds of members. After two years of their enrolment as members, they used to be elevated as active members. It was later changed to only one kind of membership. Leaders today discussed whether to revert to the old system of two kinds of membership.
"Besides, there was also a deliberation on whether there should be separate membership for Congress and its front wings, like Mahila Congress, Youth Congress, Seva Dal and others, or whether it should be one. There was also discussion on reserving 50 per cent seats for OBCs, SCs, STs and minorities in states and districts," Dwivedi said.
Dwivedi at the same time said no decision on these issues has been taken and that it would happen only after consultations with party workers at the grassroots level, as advised by Rahul Gandhi. That would be followed by ratification at a proposed AICC meeting in March-April.
The Congress President had a few days back sent a background note to the party's state unit chiefs seeking their suggestions on a wide array of issues, indicating an intent to redraft the socio-economic policies of Congress and revisit aspects like organisational reform and the need to increase accountability, win the confidence of the people and expand its base.
After Rahul's wide-ranging discussions with party leaders from across the country to find the way ahead for Congress, Sonia had sought inputs from the party's state units to finalise the "agenda for action" which can be taken up for ratification in the next AICC session.
Even at the CWC meet today, a note for discussion was circulated among members.
In her speech, Sonia said that on the basis of the views aired in Rahul's interaction, the partys' Central Election Authority had prepared a note on the membership drive and proposed amendments to its constitution.
While calling for applying collective wisdom to discuss these reforms and their proposed implementation, she said, "While doing so, we need to ensure that any change strengthens our committment to organisational transparency and accountability."
Earlier, there has been opposition from some among the old guard of the party to the changes introduced by Rahul in its functioning. There was also a rollback of some of the changes and a restructuring of others as they were not found to be practical.
Sources said that beside land ordinance and other farmer- related issues, Congress will also target the government on schemes like Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana by pointing out procedural deficiencies.
Emerging from the meeting, senior leader Anand Sharma, who is part of a three-member committee to finalise Congress's strategy for agitation on the land ordinance, said, "Government is deliberately pressing for the ordinance route to avoid Parliament and expects that Parliament will rubber stamp all its decisions. We are clear about opposing it."
The discussions today came at the second CWC meeting in recent months to dwell on the political situation and the challenge before Congress after the session last year during which Sonia and Rahul had offered to resign in the wake of the party's poor showing in the Lok Sabha polls.