New Delhi, Aug. 19: The Congress has shrugged off doubts about the sagacity of introducing the food security legislation and decided to launch the scheme in Delhi tomorrow even as Parliament is yet to sanction the world’s biggest welfare initiative.
Congress-ruled Haryana will also launch the scheme tomorrow — the day carefully chosen as it is Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary — but Sonia Gandhi will attend the Delhi event at the Talkatora Stadium. This will bolster Sheila Dikshit’s claim to be the first chief minister to adopt the revolutionary measure.
Sonia is expected to go the whole hog by dismissing opponents of the bill, to be taken up by the Lok Sabha tomorrow, as anti-poor. The Congress today fielded Bhalchandra Mungekar, an economist with pro-poor and pro-farmer credentials, to demolish the doubts.
Mungekar, nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the President some time ago, argued that the debate should be focused on ways for effective implementation of the legislation instead of finding fault with the concept. He said the Indian economy was big enough to offer the additional Rs 45,000 crore required to feed the poor.
Mungekar sought to confront critics by saying that “every right-thinking Indian should rejoice that such right is being given to the poor”.
“This scheme won’t affect the current account deficit (blamed for the rupee’s decline) and the outflow of grain under this scheme would not distort market dynamics. Our food output has stabilised around 250 metric tonnes a year and the grain we need to give under this scheme is only 62 metric tonnes,” Mungekar said.
The arguments indicate the government won’t accept most of the 200-odd amendments brought by various parties in Parliament. Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath has, however, hinted the government may bring some workable amendments.
“There are no ifs and buts in our minds,” declared a top Congress leader. He argued that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi had betrayed the BJP’s nervousness by raising objections to the National Food Security Bill.
Though Modi did not question the concept of food security, the Congress has decided to portray him as an opponent of the bill, a ploy that will help the party in the credit-hunting game in elections.
Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh tweeted: “The BJP and its icon want to deprive poor of food security in India, shows its true colour of being anti-poor. Oppose all pro-poor initiatives.”
In other tweets, he pointed out how the BJP, which had earlier talked of an “India free of fear, hunger and corruption”, forgot its plank and adopted a “fascist agenda” of attaining a “Congress-free India”.
Though the BJP central leadership hasn’t opposed the bill, a letter from Modi to the Prime Minister has given the Congress enough ammunition.
Congress leaders concede Modi didn’t take an anti-welfare stance and instead signalled readiness to appear more populist than the Congress by pointing to inadequacies in the bill. But electoral discourse isn’t based on such finer technicalities.
The Congress high command has asked state leaders to paint the BJP anti-food bill.
The Gujarat government had in the past taken a more rightist position on the bill, asking the Centre to examine the virtue of giving out doles to the poor instead of taking steps for their economic empowerment. Modi is now singing a different tune.