For Sonia Gandhi, communalism and fundamentalism are India's greatest enemies
The president of the ruling secularist democratic Congress party spoke at a meeting of its central decision-making assembly ahead of next May's general election. She stressed the need to preserve India's "age-old secular traditions of diverse communities living harmoniously in one composite national identity". The party must also address widespread disparities, which are the "ground where despair leads to unrest and breeds extremism as the only hope for change."

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - India's "biggest enemy is the communal forces and fundamentalist ideologies. Congress always worked to unite the country and its people," said Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Indian National Congress, the country's main secularist party.

Speaking to the All India Congress Committee, the party's central decision-making assembly, she said that the coming elections will be "a battle for India as it was conceived by our founding fathers and as we cherish. It will be a battle for the preservation of our age-old secular traditions of diverse communities living harmoniously in one composite national identity".

In May, the country will go to the polls to elect the new Union government with two main contenders. On the one hand, we have the ruling Congress Party, which formed India's first democratic government after independence in 1947, ostensibly the defender of the downtrodden. On the other, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist party now in the opposition that advocates a Hindu-only nation and backs extremist groups like the Sangh Parivar, which has carried out attacks against the country's ethnic and religious minorities.

These two opposite poles, Ms Gandhi noted, will make this election "a sharpened contest between conflicting ideologies, between conflicting interpretations of the past and between clashing visions of the future."

"Our party is woven into the fabric of this nation from its very conception as a modern nation state," she explained.

"This great country," she added, "is woven of the rich individual strands of our regions, languages, religions, traditions and communities through the ages. Yet its vibrant beauty can be seen only as a whole, a single seamless fabric, much greater than the sum of all the strands."

However, such beauty is under threat. For Sonia Gandhi, one of the main threats is economic disparity. Indeed, "In spite of impressive economic growth for which we can justifiably take credit, [. . .] disparities are still painfully widespread. Growth is essential and must be sustained."

Yet, "rapid growth alone cannot address the problems arising out of continuing disparities. Tackling these is not just a matter of social justice but more importantly an existential necessity and a moral imperative."

"If the basic needs of large sections of our society are not met in tangible measure, if the growing aspirations of our people are not met in substantial measure, the fabric of our society will be stretched and torn.  That is the ground where despair leads to unrest and breeds extremism as the only hope for change."

During the meeting, party leaders announced that Sonia Gandhi's son Rahul (a former party deputy president) would run the Congress Party's election campaign.

Unexpectedly, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is not going to be the candidate for the post of prime minister against the controversial BJP candidate Narendra Modi.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi told senior leaders that there is no tradition of the party naming a PM candidate before the elections.

For some commentators, this choice is designed to protect the young politician, already dubbed India's "future leader" from a possible defeat.

For others, it is a way to avoid turning the election into a personality clash between Gandhi and Modi.

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