Raipur: In an announcement that has the potential to give the Congress an edge in the upcoming general elections, party president Rahul Gandhi said on Monday that if elected his party would ensure a minimum income guarantee for every poor citizen in the country.
Gandhi’s statement comes just ahead of the Narendra Modi government’s final budget, in which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is expected to unveil its own version of an income support plan for poor farmers.
The concept of basic income support – economists call it universal basic income – has special salience at a time when there is both widespread rural distress across the country as well as rising unemployment. Indeed, this was the point the Economic Survey had made two years ago:
“In an era where collective arrangements are not able to guarantee the availability of jobs, it is imperative that the alignment of income and employment be loosened somewhat. In the twenty first century it may no longer be possible to guarantee social security or minimum support by linking it to employment.”
However, the Modi government cold shouldered the idea until the results of the recent assembly elections prompted calls from within the ruling parivar for an out-of-the-box idea to correct the perception that the BJP was only interested in running a government for the corporate sector.
In his Raipur speech on Monday, the Congress president accused Prime Minister Modi and the ruling BJP of trying to create two Indias – “one of the Rafale scam, Anil Ambani, Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi and the other of the poor farmers”.
Gandhi was speaking at the ‘Kisaan Abhaar Sammelan’ held here to thank Chhattisgarh’s people, particularly farmers, for voting the party to power in the state after a gap of 15 years.
“The Congress has decided to take a historic decision… The Congress-led government is going to give minimum income guarantee. This means, each poor person in India will have minimum income. This means there will be no hungry, poor people in India,” Gandhi said.
He also distributed loan waiver certificates to some of the beneficiary farmers during the function.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and senior Congress leader P.L. Punia were among those present at the event.
The Congress posted a massive victory in last year’s state assembly polls, winning 68 of the total 90 seats.
Ahead of the assembly polls, Gandhi had promised to waive farm loans if his party was voted to power in the state.
Announcement a ‘game’, says BJP
Reacting to Rahul Gandhi’s claim of ensuring a minimum income guarantee if his party was voted to power, the BJP said on Monday evening that this was like “hundreds of other announcements” of the opposition party that were not meant to be implemented and asserted that people had seen through the opposition party’s games.
“The people of India know the reality of the Congress and have seen through its games,” Union minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said, following Gandhi’s announcement at a public meeting in Chhattisgarh.
He said the Congress governments did not waive farm loans in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, despite promising to do so before the Assembly polls in these states, and added that Gandhi’s announcement was a “same kind of sop”.
“Gandhi’s claim to provide minimum income guarantee for the poor is like hundreds of Congress announcements which are not meant to be implemented. His party remained in power for 58 years at the Centre and made thousands of announcements. If they had been implemented, the face of the country, including that of the poor, would have been different,” Prasad said.
He termed the Congress chief’s assurance an “off-the-cuff” announcement, made “without any preparation or provision for funding or a proper agenda”.
Gandhi had announced that his party would ensure “minimum income guarantee” for every poor person in the country if voted to power in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
Chidambaram hails plan
On his part, senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram took to Twitter to term Rahul Gandhi’s announcement “historic”.
In a series of tweets, the former finance and home minister said 140 million people were lifted out of poverty between 2004 and 2014, when the Congress-led UPA was in power.
“Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s announcement at the farmers’ rally in Chhattisgarh is historic and will mark a turning point in the lives of the poor,” he said.
Chidambaram said the principle of Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been discussed extensively in the last two years and the time has come to adapt the principle to the country’s situation and the needs and implement the same for the poor.
“We will explain our plan in the Congress Manifesto,” he said. Chidambaram has been made the chairman of manifesto committee of the Congress for 2019 polls.
The Congress leader said “the poor in India have the first charge on the resources of the country and the party will find the resources to implement the promise of Rahul Gandhi”.
“140 million people were lifted out of poverty between 2004 and 2014. Now we should make a determined effort to wipe out poverty in India,” he said.
With PTI inputs