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India's Congress to unveil plan to oust government

India's Congress to unveil plan to oust government

India's main opposition Congress party will unveil an action plan on Monday to dislodge the country's scandal-hit coalition government, party president Sonia Gandhi said.

Congress aims to take advantage of a scandal involving bribes for arms contracts which last week forced the resignation of Defence Minister George Fernandes and the president of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's party.

The incident has been a shot in the arm for Congress ahead of elections due in five states.

Gandhi, the Italian-born leader of the country's oldest political organisation asked her cadres to go to the people with "a new sense of vitality" as she chaired a party plenary session on Sunday.

"Let the message go forth from Bangalore that we will fight every battle, wage every war, make every sacrifice to ensure that the country is liberated from the shackles of this corrupt, shameful and communal government," Gandhi told cheering delegates in India's technology capital.

Sitting crossed-legged amid a crowd of state leaders, Gandhi spoke at length of her party's secular record, charging Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with religious bigotry and promised a plan to expose the rulers.

"This plan of action will be released tomorrow in New Delhi" she said without elaborating.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy told reporters the plan would involve efforts to galvanise support outside parliament.

"It is both educative and agitational - it will be mass oriented at various levels," he said.

The scandal has boosted the morale of the Congress party, which slumped to its worst-ever election performance in 1999 after having ruled India for 45 of the 54 years since independence.

However, a Congress leader, who asked not to be identified, said the party's plans were not for the short term.

"Frankly, we don't see the government falling in numbers," he said. "This is not the reckoning for the government. This is the beginning of the reckoning."

The arms scandal erupted last week when tehelka.com, an Internet portal, showed tapes secretly filmed by its reporters posing as arms dealers. Officials were shown accepting money or talking of alleged bribes.

Vajpayee on Friday ordered a probe by a Supreme Court judge with a four-month deadline. But Congress says the probe is pointless as the coalition was vigorously defending Fernandes and continuing with other officials named in the scandal.


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