On a day she was authorised to select the presidential candidate,
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi asked party colleagues to shun
infighting if they needed to win the 2014 general elections.
Addressing the Congress Working Committee (CWC), Gandhi also
defended Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from attacks by the
opposition and the civil society over corruption charges.
Manmohan Singh also hit out at his critics, accusing them of
spreading "canards and falsehoods" against the Congress-led United
Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
Both Gandhi and the prime minister sounded combative at the
meeting also attended by senior leaders including Rahul Gandhi,
party chief ministers as well as special invitees at the
Parliament House Annexe.
Even as she targeted the opposition and vocal critics such as Team
Anna, Gandhi focussed on the faction fighting within the Congress
that has been blamed for its poor showing in recent state
Speaking in Hindi, Gandhi asked party members to shun factions and
start preparing for the Lok Sabha ballot only two years away
besides elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh this year.
"If we utilise half the energy we spend on infighting, we would be
able to double our strength," she said, in one of her harshest
critical remarks on her own colleagues.
"We need to get ready for the Lok Sabha elections in 2014."
She cautioned colleagues that voters will treat them guided by the
image they form of the party. "It will be a big mistake to miss
She defended Manmohan Singh and attacked the opposition and the
civil society for hurling "baseless" charges on the Congress and
"The manner in which the opposition and some anti-Congress
elements are single mindedly levelling unfounded allegations
against the PM and the UPA government is really unfortunate," she
At the end of the conference that lasted several hours barring a
30-minute lunch break, the CWC authorized Gandhi to pick the
presidential and vice presidential candidates for next month's
According to Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi, a
resolution to this effect was moved by Finance Minister Pranab
Mukherjee, who himself is stated to be in the running for the top
post along with Vice President Hamid Ansari.
Gandhi's comments come in the backdrop of escalating allegations
of corruption in the allocation of coal blocks during 2006-09 when
the prime minister headed the coal ministry.
The Congress and the government have denied any wrongdoing.
In a bid to rebut criticism related to economic slowdown, the
prime minister warned that India's economy was passing through
"difficult times due to influences beyond (our) control".
"These are difficult times for our country and the economy caused
to a large extent by circumstances over which we have little or no
control," he said.
"It is very important for all the leaders and workers of the
Congress to educate the public about the canards and falsehoods
being spread by those who are opposed to us," said Singh.
Mukherjee denied that the Indian economic situation today was
comparable to 1991 when a crippling foreign exchange crisis forced
New Delhi to embrace sweeping economic reforms.
"There is no reason to believe that we are going back to the
situation of 1991," Mukherjee said.
Mukherjee, one of the most senior leaders of the Congress, however
admitted that these were "difficult times" for the ruling party.