At Congress Chintan Shivir, Sonia Gandhi takes partymen to task over 'opportunities lost', speaks up for middle-class

Sonia Gandhi

A day after the PM Manmohan Singh-led UPA govt deregulated diesel 'partially' and a Parliamentary panel spoke up for expansion of role of Sonia Gandhi's pet Food Bill scheme (5 kg wheat guarantee at Rs 2 per kg, rice at Rs 3 to all beneficiaries), both of which would hit the pockets of the middle class the hardest, Congress president herself spoke up for the very people who will be hurt the most - the middle class.

With the Lok Sabha polls just a little more than a year away, Gandhi today said party's revival in weak states should not not be compromised at the altar of alliance politics.

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In a candid admission in her opening speech at the 2-day "Chintan Shivir" (brainstorming conclave) that Congress was facing "increased competition and inroads" into its traditional base, she said "unity and discipline" was the need of the hour in the party.

She formed five separate groups, including one on "emerging political challenges" headed by A K Antony in which P Chidamaram is a participant, for deeper discussion.

Ahead of the start of the start of the conclave, there was a clamour from senior leaders for Rahul Gandhi to play a larger role in the organisation.

Seeking "free, fearless and frank views" from the participants, Gandhi surprisingly made a reference to the "growing educated and middle classes", an apparent message to the party to woo them.

Gandhi, who is also the Chairperson of UPA, made it clear that Congress has to "strike a balance" between respecting alliances where it has tied up with other parties and "ensuring that the party's rejuvenation is not compromised".

"In states in which we are in alliance we have to strike a balance between respecting these alliances and ensuring that the party"s rejuvenation in on is not not compromised," Gandhi said.

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