The big bang populism ahead of Lok Sabha elections will be a significant feature of the party’s manifesto discussed by the Congress Working Committee on Monday. A beneficiary family’s annual entitlement would be Rs 72,000 and Congress president Rahul Gandhi called it the “final assault” on poverty.
The move comes on the heels of the perceived success of farm loan waivers offered by Congress during elections to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which the party won in December. It is also seen as a response to the government’s decision to offer an annual income support of Rs 6,000 to farmers with less than five acres, with the Congress proposal being much more ambitious.
The party hopes that the announcement will help reduce the focus on BJP’s high decibel campaign after the air strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Balakot in Pakistan. The party feels a discussion on jobs and farm distress can help the opposition while BJP’s “nationalism” plank dilutes the emphasis.
Seeking to address scepticism that the scheme was unviable and could derail fiscal balance while also diverting resources, Rahul said, “The entire calculations have been done. The fiscal repercussions have been analysed. This money is perfectly available. This scheme is perfectly doable.”
Having set off a debate on the viability of “right to minimum income” during an election rally in January, Rahul provided “with pride” details on the proposed scheme which is an elaboration of the rights-based approach followed by UPA governments from 2004-14.
Refining the idea, in-house economists determined that the average income of the poorest households was Rs 6,000 a month even as they set a target income of Rs 12,000. As a result, the poll promise is that a Congress-led government will make a standard transfer of Rs 6,000 to each of the 20% of poorest households in the country, which comes to five crore families covering 25 crore people.
The scheme will be rolled out in two phases, starting with half of the poorest beneficiaries. Sources said former finance minister P Chidambaram pegged its cost at Rs 1.8 lakh crore in the first year.
As per sources, Congress will promise that this income would be transferred to bank accounts of women heads of households. Interestingly, with Congress seeing “right to minimum income” being identified with Rahul, the party has decided to call the scheme by its Hindi acronym “NYAY” (Nyuntam Aay Yojana). The concept was put forth by Rahul’s sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at the CWC meeting in Ahmedabad last month. “Nyay” in Hindi translates to justice.
With “NYAY”, Congress hopes to steer the debate towards welfarism which the party believes is its strong suit, having lost the narrative post-Balakot which helped BJP roll out “national security” as campaign plank. Assured income to the poorest families can go a long way in wooing the poor during the elections, the party hopes.
After the CWC discussed “NYAY” along with the upcoming election manifesto, Rahul addressed a press conference where he used the scheme to paint PM Narendra Modi-led BJP as “anti-poor”.
“If PM Modi can give money to the richest Indians, Congress can give money to the poorest of the country,” he said. Lashing out, he said the country had one flag but Modi was creating two Indias — one of the rich like Anil Ambani and the other of the poor. “I will not let it happen,” he added.
Contrasting “NYAY” with Modi regime’s recent scheme of Rs 6,000 annually to a farming family, Rahul said, “He gives farmers meagre ‘three rupees and fifty paise’ and gives crores to people with private jets. We are giving you justice — Rs 72,000 annually to 20% of Indian families.”
To buttress his claim, Rahul reminded people that he had promised “farm loan waiver” within 10 days of coming to office in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, and had delivered on it. “Today, I pledge that ‘NYAY’ will happen,” he added.
At the CWC deliberations, the income scheme kicked off a debate of sorts. There was a clamour that the entitlement be pegged higher than Rs 6,000 per month, with some leaders quoting amounts.
At this point, Chidambaram intervened to say the scheme would cost Rs 1.8 lakh crore a year and the party needed to be reasonable so that it could be implemented and would not be just a “jumla”.
Later, Rahul tweeted a slogan “Congress ki nayi pehal, behtar Bharat, behtar kal” (Congress’s new initiative, better India, better tomorrow).
Congress offers mega sop: Rs 6000 a month to 20% of India’s poorest – Times of India