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Sonia fights for job bill in House

New Delhi, Aug. 18: A “human face”, served up with a dash of humour.

Sonia Gandhi today showed the lighter side of her personality as she advertised the Centre’s rural job scheme as the “human face” of the economic reforms programme.

The ruling alliance chairperson was countering the proposed law’s critics who see it as a “populist give-away”.

Rising to make her first intervention in a debate in the 14th Lok Sabha, Sonia began reading out her speech in Hindi, inviting applause from Samajwadi Party member Mohan Singh.

Pura Hindi mein nahi hain (the entire speech is not in Hindi),” she said with a playful smile and began her 25-minute argument, the latter half of it in English.

She was at it again, launching into impromptu Hindi to calm tempers as the Opposition briefly threatened to break into an uproar.

The provocation was the Congress chief’s comment that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had refused to supply additional stocks of foodgrain to drought-hit Congress-ruled states three years ago.

As Opposition leaders began shouting their protests, Sonia said, “Aap baad mein jawab do naa. Koi problem nahin hai (Why don’t you save your comments for later' We have no problems with that).”

Sonia’s defence of the rural employment guarantee bill came soon after rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh tabled it this afternoon. Singh proposed several amendments to the original bill he had introduced in the House last December.

“We see the national employment guarantee act as the human face of economic reforms, making the process of economic growth more inclusive, more equitable,” Sonia said.

She dismissed the pro-reform lobby’s fears that the scheme will use up huge sums of money, saying there is no conflict between the imperatives of economic growth and the proposed law. The two go hand-in-hand.

But she said that nobody should see the job scheme as a substitute for steady economic growth. If the country can sustain an annual GDP growth rate of 7 per cent, finding the money for the scheme would not be a problem at all.

Probably, “a time will come, and I hope not too far in the future, when there will be no need for such an extensive programme”, she said, for the economic reforms will have created enough jobs for rural India. But for this to happen, people, including those in the government, must rid themselves of the “sab chalta hai” attitude.

She trumpeted the law as a brainchild of her party. The Congress manifesto had promised it during the 2004 Lok Sabha polls and had now delivered on it.

“To this (law) I am committed, to this the Congress party is committed, to this the UPA government is committed,” she signed off.

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