At a time when the Congress and the Prime Minister are beleaguered by a slew of allegations ranging from corruption to policy paralysis, party president Sonia Gandhi made it clear that Dr Manomhan Singh enjoys her confidence and support.
In her address to the party's highest decision-making body, its Working Committee (CWC), Mrs Gandhi took on Team Anna, which has recently and aggressively targeted the Prime Minister for allegedly allowing a massive swindle in the allocation of coal fields to private companies. She said the attack on the Prime Minister and the government is 'part of a conspiracy'.
"The manner in which the Opposition parties and some anti- Congress elements are single-mindedly leveling unfounded allegations against the PM, the UPA government...that is really unfortunate," she said.
Mrs Gandhi referred to the challenges that confront the government include a worrying economic slowdown. India's growth in January-March was its weakest in nearly a decade, and sparked a new round of economic downgrades from investment banks
Mrs Gandhi also stressed that the party needs to prep for elections in key states scheduled for later this year in starts like Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. She also highlighted the fact that the general elections are now just two years away. After a disastrous performance in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, where the Congress placed a poor third, she said, "If we spend our efforts on party-building instead of groupism, our party will be strengthened." The government has been weakened by allegations of rampant graft, and referring to the need to correct this, she said, "Our party will be judged by (our) public image."
The Congress meeting comes soon after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and 14 senior ministers of his government came under fresh attack from the team of Gandhian activist Anna Hazare; the charges of corruption saw the PM make a rare and impassioned defence.
The meeting, chaired by Mrs Gandhi, was attended by the PM, who sat next to her and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Also in attendance are members of the CWC and chief ministers of Congress-ruled states.
High on the agenda, sources say, is a presentation on the economic situation by the Finance Minister, where he is expected to, among other things, explain the universally unpopular decision to allow a steep hike in petrol prices.
On May 24, state-owned oil companies announced a hike of Rs. 7.54 a litre in petrol prices - the steepest increase ever. This Saturday, after a fortnightly review, the oil marketing companies announced a reduction of Rs. 1.68 per litre in petrol prices, excluding taxes. The move came as some relief for consumers battered by double-digit inflation, but the political pressure on the government is unlikely to ease. It has been attacked on the issue of the price hike by all political parties including allies like the Trinamool Congress and the DMK. Even some Congress leaders were said to have spoken in strong words against the hike and the party had officially said it hoped the government was considering some measures to ease the burden on people.
Press Trust of India reports that the party could pass a resolution at the meeting calling for effective steps to provide relief to the people who are battling rise in prices of essential commodities.
Sources say the Congress president is also expected to discuss the Antony Committee report on the Congress' poor show in assembly elections in five states earlier this year. This is the first CWC meeting after those elections in UP and four states and the Congress is determined not to repeat its electoral errors in elections to other crucial states at the end of this year. Leaders from poll-bound states like Karnataka, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will be asked to detail their preparedness for the elections to be held in their states.