Jaipur, Jan 18: In a candid message to her party, Congress President Sonia Gandhi today drew attention to its weaknesses such as lack of unity, personal ambitions and ostentatious displays of wealth while calling for introspection in the face of challenges ahead.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls due in about 15 months, Gandhi spoke about the strengths and weaknesses of the Congress on the opening day of a 3-day conclave here at which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi and the entire leadership is present.
The brainstorming conclave (chintan shivir) was a forum for an "honest conversation among ourselves", she told Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and hundreds of other participants.
"We are here on serious business which will determine our future" and "we must go from here recharged and reinvigorated", the party President told the participants.
Gandhi said while Congress continued to be the nation's pre-eminent political party, "we must admit that we now faced increased competition and inroads have been made into our traditional support bases."
Listing five challenges, including political and the emerging social and economic concerns, the atrocities on women and children, she said the atrocities on women, both in urban and rural India, "are a blot on our collective conscience and a matter of great shame".
"The way we still treat widows, the trafficking of children and women, the brazen sexual harassment–these are all very disturbing trends that should shake and awaken us," she said.
Turning to "pressing organisational matters", Gandhi was critical of the lack of discipline and unity in the party.
"Is it not the case the we have squandered many opportunities that people are willing to give us simply because we have been unable to function as a disciplined and united team?
"In states where we are out of power especially, we should be coming together, setting aside personal ambitions and egos, and working cohesively so that the party triumphs. Why do we forget the simple truth that in the party's victory lies the victory of each and every one of us?"
Gandhi said unity will come not from pious declarations of intent. "It has to come from within. Unity is the cry of each and every worker of our great organisation and it is our sacred duty to respond to it."
On building leadership in the party, she said "performance, not patronage, must be the ladder to advancement in the party".
Seeing many young colleagues, Gandhi said she was tempted to say something on a subject that has always "bothered" her.
"And this relates to our lifestyles. Celebrated weddings, festivals and happy events is one thing – but what of lavish and ostentatious displays of wealth, pomp and status?
"Does this not beg the question, where is this wealth coming from? I hope that you will take this seriously and come up with suggestions and norms that we may all accept and adhere to."