Mon, Oct 16, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Revival of slogan bears the imprint of Sonia Gandhi


It was the slogan that propelled India's then prime minister Indira Gandhi to her first re-election victory in 1971 by a landslide.

Thirty-five years on, the Congress Party government has brought back Garibi Hatao -- "Eradicate Poverty."

The government, elected in 2004 on an anti-poverty program, is hoping the slogan will again work magic and keep the masses in its fold, say analysts.

"The problem is that of showing achievements [on the anti-poverty front]," says Rasheed Kidwai, biographer of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, daughter-in-law of Indira, who was assassinated in 1984.

"The government's report card does not have much to show. It's also trying to woo its traditional core constituency with an eye on the next national polls due in 2009," Kidwai says.

The government says it used the Indira Gandhi slogan for the restructuring of a package of anti-poverty programs because it was an easier term to understand than Hindi officialese for poverty alleviation.

But coming as the slogan does midway through the coalition government's five-year term, analysts view the move as strategic and all agree it bears the imprint of Sonia.

"It certainly has the touch of Sonia Gandhi. She considers Indira her role model and has observed her from close quarters. This is one of the results," Kidwai says.

Indira's slogan worked magic amongst India's masses at a time when the country, dependent on food imports, was battling grinding poverty and its industries were in their infancy, Kidwai says.

"The scenario in 2006 is very different. Today India boasts economic growth rates of over eight percent but there is a great disconnect between urban and rural India," he says.

"Debt-burdened farmers killing themselves is just one example," he says, referring to hundreds of recent suicides in India's cotton-growing belt.

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