| Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh at the Congress convention on the job scheme. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, May 26: Sonia Gandhi was earnest, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh deferential and matter-of-fact by turn, Jairam Ramesh and Mani Shankar Aiyar political and businesslike, and true to the Congress grain, the delegates were sycophantic.
Their approaches may have been different. But at the end of the daylong convention on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, organised by the Congress today, the message that emerged was the act was “historic and revolutionary”. More important, it was a creation of the Congress, conceived and executed by the party and the party alone.
The absence of a mention of the UPA allies or the Left in the speeches reinforced the objective of the meeting. If at all anyone could claim credit for the act, it was the Congress, that space should not be shared with anyone.
Panchayati raj minister Aiyar likened the law to an “astra” (weapon) which, if used “effectively”, in the various “jungs” (wars) the party would fight in the state and general elections, would help it to retain or wrest power from the Opposition.
“The act is a mechanism to show to people that the Congress is concerned about them, it will hear out their problems. If this is done, 90 per cent of the battle is won. The social mobilisation to take this programme forward can start thereafter,” Aiyar said.
The only “concession” made to the Left was avoiding a discussion of how the law worked in the states it ruled ' Bengal and Kerala. Of the 200 districts the scheme covers, 10 are in Bengal and two in Kerala.
The delegates from the other states ' starting with Uttar Pradesh (ruled by the Samajwadi Party) and ending with the Northeast (governed by different parties) ' spoke of how the act was used or abused (if it was a non-Congress state) but after interspersing their submissions with references to “rashtriya mata Sonia Gandhi” and the Gandhi family.
The Congress president underlined the spirit of the act, saying: “This issue only figured in the Congress’s election manifesto. It was mentioned in the UPA’s national common minimum programme and now our government has implemented it. The Centre funds 90 per cent of the scheme. At least, project a correct picture of the act in the Congress-ruled states.”
In the states where the Congress sat in the Opposition, Sonia called on the delegates to keep an eye on the rural job scheme and “if it was not working properly, launch an agitation and awaken people”. Around 60 per cent of the selected districts are in the non-Congress-ruled states, the highest, 23, falling in Bihar, followed by 22 in Uttar Pradesh and 20 in Jharkhand.
Sonia used the forum to reinforce the supremacy of the party over the government and called on her chief ministers to work in tandem with party workers.
“Sometimes it so happens that a report (on the scheme) given by a state government is at variance with the feedback solicited from the party. Both the inputs cannot be true simultaneously. This should not happen,” she warned.
She directed the Union ministers to be in touch with the party.
“Whichever part of the country they visit, whether they go on an official or non-official visit, they must take time off for the party. If the party can’t organise a programme for them, the ministers must visit the party office. This is the way to strengthen the party and boost the workers’ morale,” said Sonia.