Jaipur:  In a way to stimulate Congressmen to prepare for 2014 General Elections, Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Friday told partymen that unity should be their watchword as the party had floundered many an opportunity for want of discipline.

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Addressing the 'Chintan Shivir' here, Gandhi cautioned partymen of increased competition for Congress' political space and noted that several inroads had been made in the party's traditional support bases.

"Is it not the case that we have floundered many opportunities that people are willing to give us simply because we have been unable to function as a disciplined and united team," she asked at the two-day party conclave held at the Birla Auditorium here.
The conclave will be followed by a session of the AICC on Sunday.
Among the leaders present on the dais included Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A K Antony, Rahul Gandhi, Motilal Vora and Ambika Soni.

Pakistan's talks offer features at Chinta Sivir
With beheading of an Indian soldier clearly weighing on her mind, Gandhi said India's dialogue with immediate neighbours must be based on accepted principles of civilised behaviour, in an apparent reference to Pakistan which has proposed talks between the Foreign Ministers.
"Better and closer relations with our immediate neighbours will not only make for regional peace - they will also have a positive impact on some of our own border states.  "However, let us be clear. Our dialogue must be based on accepted principles of civilised behaviour. We will never compromise on our vigil and preparedness to deal with terrorism and threats on our borders," she said.

Her remarks came as External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, speaking on the sidelines of the Congress meet, noted the "positive indications" from Pakistani side and said India will give an "appropriate" response if Islamabad makes a formal proposal for talks between the foreign ministers.
He was asked by reporters on the offer of Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar for discussions following tension at Line of Control (LoC) in the wake of beheading of Indian soldier by Pakistani troops on January 8.

Don't alienate middle class

People were fed up with corruption, Gandhi told party workers, noting an increasingly assertive middle class can't be allowed to be alienated from the political process.

"Aided by the tools of the modern world- television, social media, mobile phones and the internet, today's India is better informed and better equipped to communicate," said Gandhi.

She said that the citizens were "rightly fed up with the levels of corruption" in public life at high levels as well as in their daily lives and that it was a phenomenon that "we must understand and continue to respond to".

"We cannot allow our growing, educated middle classes to be disillusioned and alienated from the political process," she added.

Atrocities on women, a matter of shame

In the backdrop of nationwide outrage over Delhi gang-rape case, Gandhi asked partymen to bring gender issues to "the heart of our political activity" saying the "very disturbing trends" against women and children should wake up the party.
She described atrocities on women as a blot on conscience and a matter of shame, and stressed that gender issues should not just confined to Mahila Congress or women organizations only.
"I must say with the greatest anguish and pain that discrimination against the girl child continues. Atrocities on women, both in urban and rural India, are a blot on our collective conscience and a matter of great shame," she said.

"The way we still treat widows, the prevalence of female foeticide even in economically prosperous regions, the trafficking of children and women, brazen sexual harassment - these are all very disturbing trends that should shake and awaken us," she said.
Gandhi said, "The entire party must understand them and bring them to the heart of our political activity and change mindset."
The UPA chairperson highlighted that the government has taken the agenda of women empowerment ahead and launched several programmes.
Recalling a Mahila Shashaktikaran Adhiveshan held a decade ago in Delhi by her party, she said Congress had prepared a specific agenda for action in the Adhiveshan which was taken forward by the UPA government.
"New programmes have been launched. New laws have been enacted. The women's self-help group movement has received a huge impetus and there are now over 12 lakh elected women representatives in institutions of local-self government," she added.

Here are the highlights:

•    There is increased competition and inroads have been made in our traditional strongholds.

•    We have floundered many opportunities simply because we have not worked as a team.

•    Dialogue with neighbours must be based on accepted principles of civilised behavior.

•    Sonia asks partymen to be austere; lavish weddings will lead to questions on where money came from.

•    Citizens rightly fed up with the level of corruption in public life.

•    Cannot allow middle class to be disillusioned.


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