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Cong finds a poll cash cow

New Delhi, Nov. 27: The Congress appears to have found the slogan for the next election: “Aapka paisa aapke haath (Your money in your hands).”

The leadership has decided to flag the direct cash transfer of subsidies as its big achievement in the 2014 elections, as it did the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in 2009.

Although most of the details were already in the public domain, the government today took care to formally announce the cash-transfer scheme from the Congress headquarters.

Finance minister P. Chidambaram repeatedly said “the party is proud and very happy” with this scheme while rural development minister Jairam Ramesh tied it to the party symbol — the “hand” — with the slogan “Aapka paisa aapke haath.”

The ministers also identified the scheme with the party’s ambitious welfare agenda, which has brought forth a series of rights-based legislation, and the prize Food Security Act waiting to be unveiled. While the scheme does not serve new beneficiaries, by overhauling the delivery mechanism it expects to ensure that existing benefits reach those that they are meant for and are not lost on the way.

The party has called a meeting of leaders from the 51 districts chosen for the scheme in the first phase, to be addressed by Rahul Gandhi, to underline the importance of this scheme.

Sonia Gandhi had addressed a similar meeting in Delhi to highlight the importance of MGNREGA; she had exhorted party leaders to spread the message that only the Congress could take such a revolutionary step.

The party is already describing the Aadhaar-based cash-transfer of subsidies and benefits as a game-changer.

Chidambaram, who was initially sceptical of the Aadhaar (unique identification) project and had advised the government to move cautiously on the cash-transfer scheme, today said: “There will be immense benefits. Today’s system is a maze. In the new system, there will be no leakage, no rent-seeking, no duplication, no falsification and the efficiency gains will be incalculable. And the government is also looking for savings.”

The minister strongly reacted to the BJP’s charge of bribing the voter. “This is absurd, I can’t find a stronger word to condemn it. People should hurl accusations with some responsibility. Giving scholarship to students is no bribe. Sending pensions to the old in time is no bribe… My experience with reforms in India is that you can’t take the first step without resistance, without pessimism. This will ensure lasting, enduring benefit to the people,” he said.

Ramesh recalled what Rajiv Gandhi had said about 15 paise of every rupee reaching the targeted beneficiary. “This is not merely a government scheme but part of the political campaign to empower the people,” he said.

Sonia has all along relied on government schemes to consolidate her party’s political base and Rahul, too, has often woven his speeches around MGNREGA, RTI, land reforms and the Food Security Bill.

Congress leaders hail this reliance on “politics of empowerment and development” as opposed to the politics of identity and chauvinism. They proudly show off schemes such as the MGNREGA, Right to Information, Right to Education, National Rural Health Mission and Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, and hope the Food Security Act will surpass the political impact made by all these together.

One senior leader said: “It is forgotten that the Gandhi family stands for social democracy…. They don’t only bring FDI in retail, their role is reflected in decisions ranging from nationalisation of banks to MGNREGA.”