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India’s Congress to stage massive rally

NEW DELHI: Sonia Gandhi, chief of India’s ruling Congress party, and Premier Manmohan Singh will speak at a massive rally today to whip up support for the scandal-tainted government ahead of 2014 elections.
Italian-born Gandhi, India’s political grand matriarch who led Congress to back-to-back wins in 2004 and 2009, is moving into high gear as she seeks to persuade voters to elect the party for a third straight term, analysts say.
At the rally in the Indian capital, leaders will defend the government’s blitz of controversial reforms to allow wider foreign investment in the retail, insurance and aviation sectors aimed at spurring a sharply slowing economy.
“We want to tell people that these are people-friendly measures — these are for the betterment of the common man,” a senior Congress party official, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
The left-leaning government is deeply wary of a voter backlash in the elections due within 18 months over the reforms that have drawn strong political opposition in the still heavily poor country of 1.2 billion people.
Also due to speak along with Gandhi and Singh at the rally in the capital New Delhi will be Sonia’s 42-year-old son Rahul Gandhi, expected to be the party’s candidate for prime minister in the polls, the party official said.
“All three of them are scheduled to give speeches,” he said.
The rally is being staged a week after 80-year-old Singh overhauled his Cabinet to give it a more youthful face with the inclusion of younger ministers to appeal to the country’s vast youth population.
Congress is struggling to restore its credibility as a force fit to govern in the face of a drumroll of corruption charges that have put it on the defensive almost since the last elections in 2009.
The Congress party official said the party is hoping Sunday’s rally would be attended by over 100,000 people.