Flaws in India's banking system need to be fixed, says Sonia Gandhi

Sonia Gandhi
Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday said the Narendra Modi government’s promise of “Achhe Din”, or better days, will meet the same fate as the “India shining” slogan of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance-I, which had brought the Congress victory in 2004.

Critiquing the Modi government’s “quick” decision-making, Gandhi said: “Yes, of course, we need to move fast but fast – F, A, S, T — cannot stand for First Act, Second Think. Acronym-itis can be very contagious.” Addressing an event in Mumbai, Gandhi, who in December relinquished the job of the Congress chief after 19 years at its helm, faulted the current government for its decision-making on the economy, relationship with India’s neighbours, or the handling of vital security issues and cross-border terrorism.

Gandhi asked whether maximum governance meant minimum truth. “Everyone knows that the employment situation is grim. But all of a sudden we are told that 7.5 million jobs were created in 2017. This claim has, of course, been widely debunked, but does that make a difference?” she asked. Gandhi reminded how the narrative from the government kept shifting as demonetisation hit the economy. The Congress leader said “skillful repackaging and lavish marketing” should be seen for what it is. “I am encouraged by the fact that people are beginning to question this re-imagining of India,” Gandhi said.

While she said she was finding more time for herself after quitting as the party chief, Gandhi didn’t rule out contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from her Rae Bareli parliamentary constituency. She said she would adhere to whatever the party decides for her. When asked where she stood on the ideological spectrum, Gandhi, who continues to be the chairperson of the Congress-led UPA and is the Congress Parliamentary Party leader, said she believed growth and development were important. “But at the same time it is as important to see to it that the underprivileged also receive support,” she said. Gandhi said an island of very wealthy people and a huge number of very poor people was a recipe for social unrest.

She also disagreed that the Congress-led UPA governments introduced entitlement-based schemes when there was insufficient money to fund these. “There is plenty of money to lend to big daddies, but whenever there is requirement to give to the poorer sections, there is always excuses and noises (are made),” she said.

On privatisation of public sector banks (PSBs) in the light of the Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud case, Gandhi said she wasn’t an economist but the PSBs have “in the past served the country well where a poor person could go and borrow money”. She said there were flaws in the banking system, which needed to be fixed. On whether the state should have an overarching or minimal influence, Gandhi said it wasn’t about minimum or maximum government but “balanced government is always the best”.

On the Congress’s defeat in 2014, Gandhi said her party failed to communicate all that the UPA government did for the people, and was “out-marketed” by the Narendra Modi-led BJP. She said the issue of corruption was “over exaggerated”, and her party’s stand has been vindicated with the court order in the 2G scam case. Gandhi said it needed to be asked how the then Comptroller and Auditor General (Vinod Rai) was given a “cushy job” by the Modi government.

About the criticism that the Congress is turning to soft-Hindutva with her son and Congress President Rahul Gandhi visiting temples often, Gandhi said the family has always visited temples. She said while ‘brainwashed’ is a rude word, the BJP has managed to persuade people that the Congress was a Muslim party, when a large majority of Congress leaders and workers were Hindus. She said the Gandhi family has always visited temples, but did so unobtrusively. “We never made a show of it…(but now) because we have been pushed into a corner, rather than going to a temple quietly may be a little more public focus on that (is required),” she said.

Gandhi accused the Modi government of misusing central probe agencies against political rivals. She said while she didn’t know enough about the case against Karti Chidambaram, son of senior leader P Chidambaram, who is currently in CBI custody, she knew that the CBI could find anything even in a perfectly clean situation.

She said she was hosting a dinner for leaders of “likeminded parties” next week, who needed to forget their rivalries on the ground to come together for the sake of the country. Gandhi also suggested that while there was tension between the seniors in the party and the younger leaders, it had been resolved.

Gandhi said the government had forced the Congress to resort to disruptions in Parliament, particularly the Lok Sabha, by not agreeing to its demands for debate on key issues, including the PNB fraud case. She said the Congress equation with the ruling party during the Vajpayee government was good as he showed the spirit of accommodation, which the Modi government lacks. Gandhi also suggested that Speaker Sumitra Mahajan was less than fair to the opposition.

In her speech, the former Congress chief said the country was being presented with a “regressive vision”. She said a “well thought out project, long in the making, to refashion the very idea of India” was now unfolding.

She bemoaned the “cynical running down” of India’s past accomplishments as “conceit”. Gandhi said “callous remarks” about changing the Constitution, provocative statements from the ruling establishment were “not random or accidental” but “part of a dangerous design”.

She said alternative voices were being silenced, through violence, even murder. Gandhi said India’s social DNA was being re-engineered. “The resulting churn will unleash pent-up frustration, resentment and anger, with devastating consequences.”

In a reference to the PM, she said: “Individuals can mesmerise for a while but our Republic needs impartial and robust institutions.” Gandhi said parliamentary majority was being used to stifle debate and bulldoze legislation, the judiciary was in turmoil and civil society was being silenced.