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Gandhi says Governing Party ‘Losing Touch’ With Masses

December 29, 1985

BOMBAY, India (AP) _ Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, speaking Saturday on the 100th anniversary of the movement that led India to freedom, attacked political corruption and said his own party was losing touch with the masses.

Gandhi’s Congress party is a descendant of the Indian National Congress, which along with the Moslem League led the struggle that culminated in independence from Britain in 1947.

During a 70-minute speech at a Bombay cricket stadium, Gandhi asked his audience of 100,000 party leaders and workers, ″What has become of our great Congress? Instead of a party that fired the imagination, we have shrunk, losing touch with the toiling millions.″

Despite all, however, Gandhi said that ″at this critical juncture there is no other political party capable of defending the unity and integrity of the country, taking it forward to progress and prosperity.″

Gandhi, 41, who became party president after his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was assassinated Oct. 31, 1984, pledged to fight political corruption, to continue income tax raids, and to pass laws to ensure ″cleaner election″ financing.

Strict security was enforced. Police used riot sticks to control thousands who tried to surge into the stadium past metal detectors. No serious injuries were reported.

The Congress party has controlled India for most of the 38 years since independence from Britain. Gandhi’s strongest remarks were reserved for his party, which dominates Parliament and most state assemblies.

″We talk of high principles and lofty ideas needed to build a strong and prosperous India,″ Gandhi said. ″But we obey no discipline, no rule, follow no principle of public morality, display no sense of social awareness ...

″Corruption has not only been tolerated but even regarded as the hallmark of leadership. At every stage, our aims and actions conflict, our private selves curse our social commitment.″

The prime minister said powerbrokers have reduced the party to a ″feudal oligarchy ... and to a hollow shell from which the spirit of service and sacrifice has been emptied.″

Gandhi also condemned ″government servants who do not serve but oppress the poor and helpless, police who do not uphold the law but shield the guilty, tax collectors who do not collect taxes but connive with those who cheat the state, and whole legions whose only concern is their private welfare.″

He then denounced the opposition parties for ″total incapacity, corruption, nepotism, hypocrisy which has disfigured our political landscape.″ He accused his political foes of disregard for national security and said some colluded with anti-national elements.

Gandhi’s Congress party recently lost state elections in Sikh-dominated Punjab and in Assam, where religious and regional parties belied Congress’ claims to represent national unity.

″We are imprisoned by the narrow domestic walls of religion, language and caste blocking the clear vision of a resurgent nation,″ he said in a stadium decked with Indian national and party flags, portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, and Indira Gandhi.

He called on his party to lead the battle against poverty and dishonesty and to change its lifestyle.

″Vulgar, conspicuous consumption must go,″ he said. ″Simplicity, efficiency and commitment to national goals hold the key to self-reliance.″

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