Narayanpur (West Bengal): Stressing that the Congress was committed to secularism, party chief Sonia Gandhi Saturday called for an all-out struggle against communal forces and ideologies, while terming the development schemes launched by the UPA government as "revolutionary".
Speaking at the foundation laying ceremony of an engineering institute named after late Congress leader A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury in this rural belt of West Bengal's Malda district, Gandhi said: "We should fight communal forces and ideologies with all our strength."
"Our strength lies in the fact that we are secular. And that is our treasure. Congress is completely dedicated to protecting this treasure," she said in this Muslim majority district of West Bengal, set to hold rural body (panchayat) polls shortly.
"Economic progress, social goodwill and communal harmony should go hand in hand," she said during her ten-minute speech.
Malda is also one of the few districts in West Bengal where the Congress still has a strong base, but is now facing a challenge from the ruling Trinamool Congress.
Gandhi reeled off details about the various development programmes initiated by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) central government, led by her party.
Her stress was on government schemes targeted at minorities and rural masses besides women.
"Since the UPA government was formed under (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh's leadership, it has started a series of revolutionary projects which has strengthened the country's economic and social foundations," Gandhi said, mentioning the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and Bharat Nirman.
She referred to the 50 percent reservation given to women in panchayat bodies, doubling of honorariums of anganwadi workers, the proposed Nirbhaya Fund and Mahila Bank that will be run by women and help provide loan for their trade and business.
Gandhi said the government would enact a law to prevent crimes against women and was trying to pass the food security bill to ensure no one remained hungry.
In an apparent effort to woo Muslims, she said that for the first time in independent India, a separate ministry has been formed for minorities.
She said development packages have been formulated for 90 districts, including Malda, which have high minority population.
She said Murshidabad -- a neighbouring Muslim-majority district -- had got an extension campus of the Aligarh Muslim University and has been chosen for a skilled development project meant for the minorities under the National Rural Livelihood Mission.
Murshidabad is regarded as the Congress' strongest fort in the state.