Cong meet live: UPA govt did a lot for the poor, says Congress

18. 30 pm: Janardhan Dwivedi addresses press conference

Addressing a press conference after the Congress meet, Congress spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stressed on fast tracking growth in the country during the meet.

"PM expressed concern over fiscal deficit. Under Congress the UPA government did a lot for the poor." Dwivedi said that the PM admitted that inflation is a challenge and that it is difficult for the common man to survive.

Quoting Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Dwivedi said,  "Of the 8 years that the UPA has remained in power only twice the GDP growth has been below 7 percent. " Chidambaram also stressed on increasing growth and focused on FDI given the recent rupee depreciation.

Dwivedi further added that the Congress leaders discussed issues relating to socio-economic condition and governance.

14:05 pm: UPA facing tough challenges, says Sonia

Sonia said the government has changed the face of India through "unparalleled programmes and laws".

The UPA Chairperson added: "We are facing very difficult challenges, but it is a fact that we have a record of excellent achievements in the past eight years and we are proud of our commitment to the interest of the common man. This commitment is our dharma."

12:45 pm: Sonia Gandhi slams Opposition, tells party to meet manifesto promises

No surprises here. Sonia Gandhi has again chosen her party meet to lash out against the BJP and curiously is the only thing to emerge from the meet so far.

PTI reported that the Congress president said: "Our detractors and the opposition are bent upon spreading disinformation on political, moral and policy issues," she said.

"We have to respond aggressively to their false propaganda. We know that in reality their intention is to grab power at any cost, notwithstanding the fact that their greed could weaken democracy, equality, sovereignty and secular values," added Sonia.

Strong words these, but saying it at a Congress party meet seems a little redundant no? It's unlikely senior most Congress leaders have forgotten their ideology.

She however was sympathetic about the flak Congress leaders may be facing for the party's economic decisions and conceded the  government had to take certain decisions due to economic slowdown because of which common man faced difficulties.

She also had some words of advice for the Congress leaders in ministries and said that those in the government should strive hard to fulfill unfulfilled promises in the 2009 manifesto.

12:00 pm: Break time  at Samvad Baithak?

We don't know if Shashi Tharoor's at the Samvad Baithak for sure but if he's there the fact that he's found to time to tweet, perhaps shows there's a break in the deliberations.

Here's his latest tweet:

11.30 am: Chidambaram to talk about economics, Manmohan Singh to talk on everything

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will address the gathered Congress leaders about economics, politics and coalition politics. Not expected to be rivetting stuff this.

His cabinet colleague P Chidambaram will mainly speak only about the economic decisions the government has taken and wants to take ahead of the next elections. But he also has an open mike and could take the discussion to other topics as well.

How much dialogue the two senior ministers will indulge in isn't known. However, it can be expected that the other leaders present their stands on various issues and how it could affect the party's performance in the next general elections and upcoming state elections.

According to a PTI report, the party could also see a reshuffle internally which could also see the elevation of Rahul Gandhi and his supporters. After the cabinet, this seems to be the second organisation that could see a shakeup influenced by the Congress leader.

The issue of alliances could figure at the "dialogue meeting" which is the first meeting since the exit of Trinamool Congress from UPA-II and growing speculation of early Lok Sabha elections.

10:30 am: Sonia, Rahul go by bus, Manmohan gives it a miss

Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi today took a bus ride along with other leaders to
Surajkund in Haryana where the party is having a brain storming meeting.

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul travelled in the same bus occupying the front seats.They were accompanied by senior party leaders Ahmed Patel and Ambika Soni.

Ministers including A K Antony, P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad and CP Joshi were also in the same bus.

However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to go by car due to security reasons.

The day-long "dialogue session" is likely to chalk out the strategy ahead. It may also take a view on the issue of alliances in different states.

The Congress has utilised bus rides by local leaders to project a picture of unity and to connect with the common man during state elections in past.

Party sources said that the dialogue meeting (Samvad Baithak) will virtually set the agenda for the larger brainstorming at Chintan Shivir, which is likely to be organised in January next year. PTI

10:00 am: Is Surajkund a lucky venue for Sonia Gandhi? An interesting column in the Economic Times seeks to explain why Sonia Gandhi and the Congress may have chosen Surajkund in Haryana as the venue for their 'Samvad Baithak'.

According to the columnist, the party's core committee meeting was held in 1994 at the same venue and heralded the rise of Sonia Gandhi in the party and the decline of Narasimha Rao in the party.

Despite a failed attempt to oust Rao as the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi loyalists had staged a hunger strike at the venue, reportedly setting up the decline of Rao:

The anti-Rao camp had then whispered that their rebellion had the silent blessing of Sonia Gandhi, whom Rao had skillfully reduced to a helpless and anguished bird in a golden cage, according to the loyalists. So, from the loyalists' point of view, the Surajkund rebellion marked the beginning of the most muscular articulation of Sonia Gandhi's self-liberation from Rao till she established her leadership and authority with that mid-noon knockout punch delivered by the Congress Working Committee to a hapless Sitaram Kesri in 1998.

According to the article, the venue could be Sonia Gandhi's lucky venue and could see her herald the rise of son Rahul Gandhi. We're still waiting to see whether that happens.

9:45 am: The first Congress meeting since the cabinet reshuffle in the government is expected to see senior Congress leaders, the party's working committee and the party's ministers meet at Surajkund in Haryana where they will discuss issues ranging from recent economic policies to what can be done to revive the party ahead of the next general elections.

Congress General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi had earlier claimed the meeting would be informal which will discuss economic challenges and manifesto implementation.

He said the meeting would be informal and there would be no no resolutions passed.

This will be the first meeting among Congress leaders since the recent Cabinet reshuffle. PTI

Seventy leaders including 23 Cabinet ministers, 12 ministers of state (independent charge), 19 members of Congress Working Committee and 16 permanent invitees to the CWC will be attending the deliberations.

However, reports indicate the meeting will involve a lot more soul searching with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh explaining the impact of recent economic decisions taken by the government, their import and what the next possible steps could be.

Given the difference in opinion among Congress leaders over decisions like allowing FDI in retail and populist decisions like capping the number of subsidised gas cylinders, the Prime Minister and Finance Minister are expected to explain the reasons for the decisions.

Another topic of discussion is likely to be the party's strategy in the upcoming session of Parliament on 22 November which comes after a session that was completely disrupted over allegations of corruption in coal block allocations.

And whether its a step to indicate austerity or links with the common man can't be said, but Congress president Sonia Gandhi and general Rahul Gandhi travelled to the venue by bus with other party leaders, CNN IBN reported.

The Congress could also formally elevate Rahul Gandhi to the second in command of the party, given he chose to stay out of the recent cabinet reshuffle.

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