Sonia demands credible inquiry into rights violations in Lanka
Congress President Sonia Gandhi today demanded an "independent and credible" inquiry into the violation of human rights in Sri Lanka even as she refused to comment on key UPA ally DMK withdrawing support to the government at the Centre.
Voicing her pain and anguish over the "denial of legitimate political rights" to Sri Lankan Tamils, Gandhi dwelt at length on the issue at the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) meeting here.
Gandhi's remarks on the Sri Lankan Tamils issue came ahead of DMK's announcement withdrawing support to UPA.
"I have nothing to say now", Gandhi said when later asked about the pull out by DMK.
"The plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka is close to our hearts. Our support for equal rights and equal protection of the laws to them has been unwavering since the days of Indiraji and Rajivji.
"We are most pained at the manner in which their legitimate political rights continue to be denied to them. We are anguished by reports of unspeakable atrocities on innocent civilians and children, especially during the last days of the conflict in 2009," she said in her four-page speech.
The Congress President also spoke on the political challenges before the party ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and impending Assembly polls this year in a number of states besides underlining the need to focus on gender issues including passage of the anti-rape Bill and measures like Lokpal for fighting corruption.
Maintaining that reports of atrocities in Sri Lanka cannot go un-investigated, Gandhi said, "That is why we demand for an independent and credible inquiry into the violation of human rights in Sri Lanka."
She also said that the plight of Indian fishermen, who are being detained or fired upon by the Sri Lankan navy is a matter of great concern. "A permanent solution to the daily violence against them is also imperative," Gandhi said.
Speaking on gender issues, the Congress President referred to the Delhi gangrape cum murder case and said that after the consensus reached on the anti-rape Bill, "we should make every effort to see that these amendments are approved by both Houses before the recess begins (on March 22).
Asking the party to face the upcoming Assembly elections this year and next Lok Sabha elections in 2014 with "confidence, professionalism and enthusiasm", she asked the partymen to counter the "intemperate and abusive language" and "deliberate falsehoods" of the main opposition party BJP.
"The people have seen through the obstructionist tactics adopted by the BJP in Parliament and the deliberate falsehoods spread by it outside.
"The use of intemperate and abusive language by the BJP about our party and its leaders goes beyond the pale of civilised discussion and debate. Are we going to take this lying down. Certainly not. We will maintain our dignity and take our fight to the people," Gandhi said.
Maintaining that Congress' fight against the "malaise of corruption" continues in earnest, she said, "We are committed to the early passage of the Lokpabl bill."
Gandhi said the Congress-led government has already taken on board many of the suggestions made by various political parties on the Lokpal issue and will continue to press for its early adoption.
At the same time, "We also believe that Lokpal by itself will not solve the problem of corruption in daily life of the Aam Admi. Until we revamp the way we provide services and benefits to the Common man, we will not make a sizeable dent on corruption."
The Congress President cited UPA's ambitious Direct Benefits Transfer Programme, also called 'Aap Ka Paisa Aap Ke Haath' in this regard, noting that the measure will ensure effective delivery of all cash payments like scholarships, pensions, incentives, wages and some subsidies directly to the beneficiaries at the doorstep.
"This will eliminate leakages and pilferage. Both the Centre and the states are part of this initiative. Even so, we must, as a party, take an active interest in its implementation," she told the party MPs.
This was the first meeting of Gandhi with party MPs after the Jaipur Chintan Shivir.
Gandhi said the Shivir and the AICC meeting have provided a clear roadmap for the party and told the MPs that they have a key role in implementing the commitments expressed in the Jaipur declaration.
Hailing the Union Budget as "progressive and pragmatic", Gandhi said that given the circumstances, the budget has rightly focused on reviving economic growth and bringing inflation under check.
"It is reassuring that despite tough economic and financial conditions, it continues to give top priority to our flagship programmes, to the interest of Aam Admi and the most marginalised," she said, praising the rail budget for laying the much needed stress on better services with focus on safety and sanitation.