India’s ruling Congress party meets amid controversies


NEW DELHI – India’s ruling Congress party began three days of soul-searching on Saturday as it goes through its roughest political patch in the six years since it was returned to power.
The party’s plenary session comes as authorities probe what could be India’s biggest corruption case — a mobile phone licensing scandal which cost the nation 40 billion dollars in lost revenue. Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, India’s most powerful politician, is due on Sunday to address the meeting, laying out her electoral vision for the party, which is marking the 125th year since its foundation.
Gandhi, who has held the Congress top job for the longest time in the party’s long history, was thrust into the limelight after her husband, former premier Rajiv Gandhi, was killed by a suicide bomber in 1991. Central to the meeting, being held in New Delhi and being attended by around 1,750 party activists, is expected to be a resolution declaring “zero tolerance” on corruption.
“It is a painful fact that corruption seems to be widespread and I feel strongly it is our responsibility as well as that of each and every political party to together, seriously, devise a way — a mechanism — to curb this growing menace,” Gandhi said this month.
Another resolution is expected to focus on steps to strengthen the party nationwide following its humiliating electoral drubbing in the eastern state of Bihar. Gandhi, who engineered the party’s surprise victory in the 2004 general elections, is expected to spell out the party’s strategy for a slew of assembly elections next year in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry.
The plenary session comes amid a row involving Rahul Gandhi — widely seen as an Indian prime minister-in-waiting — who said he believes Hindu extremists may pose a greater threat to India than Islamist militants, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable.
Rahul, scion of India’s Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, told US Ambassador Timothy Roemer last year there was “some support” among Indian Muslims for militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba — blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.