New Delhi, Aug. 27: Congress leaders today cheered the passage of the food security bill in the Lok Sabha, saying Sonia Gandhi’s long-cherished dream had come true because of her “struggle” in the face of “resistance”, and appeared confident about getting it through the Rajya Sabha.
While the UPA lacks majority in the Upper House where the bill will come up on Monday, the Congress is counting on the support of the Bahujan Samaj Party, DMK and the Janata Dal(U).
A top government source said: “There is not even an iota of doubt about the passage of the bill. All the amendments moved by the Opposition would be comfortably defeated, as happened in the Lok Sabha.”
If even one amendment is passed, the bill will have to be returned to the Lok Sabha for reconsideration — a huge embarrassment for the government.
But the Congress does not see that possibility unless the BSP and the JD(U) betray it at the last minute. If the NDA, Left, Biju Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam Party join hands, the government still expects to be safely placed, with a margin of about 30 votes.
In the Lok Sabha, the amendments were defeated by over 100 votes although the NDA, Left, BJD and the AIADMK voted together.
Now, sources said, even the Left would not want to embarrass the government and would move tactically if the UPA gets into unforeseen trouble.
Unlike the Lokpal Bill, no party wants to be seen to be blocking this bill even as they would like to press for amendments, the sources said.
Deciding it has little to worry on the Rajya Sabha front, the Congress has taken the plunge to milk the welfare measure for political gain.
Hailing Sonia for her “unwavering commitment towards the poor” despite the difficult economic scenario, party spokesperson Bhakta Charan Das said: “Many leaders, particularly socialists and leftists, constantly talked about hunger and poverty but never contemplated such a revolutionary step. Even in intellectual discourses, priority is often given to other issues, not the main problem of hunger and malnutrition.”
The Congress spokesperson might have also had a message for those within the party who were opposed to the bill. “Pursuing blind growth without looking at the problems at the grassroots can cause civil war in the society,” he said.
Invoking Gandhi, the spokesperson said Sonia’s vision was “collective growth” and listed the social sector programmes launched under her leadership. “We know labourers in villages used to get Rs 10 or 20 for a day’s work. MNREGA changed it all and food security will make a huge difference,” Das argued.
The Congress intends to present food security and the rural jobs scheme as Sonia’s equivalent of Indira Gandhi’s nationalisation of banks and privy purse decisions. At the same time, the party does not want to send any confusing signal to global investors, hence the extended monsoon session of Parliament in which the government hopes to get passed the land acquisition, insurance and pension bills.
While speaking on the food bill in the Lok Sabha yesterday, Sonia had said that “high economic growth will have to be achieved.”
Finance minister P. Chidambaram today lamented the absence of a broad agreement among parties on the direction the government has to move on the economy and pleaded for support in spite of differences.
“The situation is grave enough not to indulge in scoring debating points,” he said, highlighting the perils of a divided polity that blocked projects, legislations and reforms.