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Cong dare to Modi on welfare

New Delhi, Jan. 29: The Congress today asked Narendra Modi to clarify whether he would withdraw the UPA’s welfare measures such as the rural jobs programme and the food security law, a day after a BJP leader said the schemes “make people impotent”.

With the question, the Congress appears to have thrown a challenge to Modi, a darling of industry and seen as a reformist who would not indulge in profligacy of the kind that has defined the Congress-led regime.

The Congress has drawn frowns from big business for running schemes MGNREGA and the National Rural Health Mission and for bringing the food law at a time experts favoured fiscal-tightening measures.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala sought the clarification at a news conference today. “The BJP is threatening to shut down all these welfare schemes which have provided livelihood to crores. We want clarity on this issue from Narendra Modi and (BJP chief) Rajnath Singh.”

Surjewala pointed to BJP national treasurer Piyush Goel’s comments on a TV channel yesterday that the schemes “make people impotent and not working”.

The Congress played the clip at today’s news conference, highlighting the words “impotent” and “not working”, which it translated as incapable or lazy.

“The use of such humiliating expressions is reflective of a mindset that treats the poor and rural populace with contempt. The BJP thinks this is wasteful expenditure and we want to know whether they will close these schemes if they come to power,” Surjewala said.

It is difficult for any party to promise closure of schemes that benefit a vast section of the population.

Surjewala linked the benefits of the schemes to a set of figures released yesterday, which revealed that life expectancy in India has risen five years in the past 10 years coinciding with the UPA’s term. The numbers also suggested a sharp fall in infant mortality and maternal mortality rates.

Surjewala sought to link the improvements to the welfare measures.

“The figures show a vast improvement and this happened because of increase in access to livelihood and healthcare from the schemes launched by the UPA government. The NREGA alone created 1,575 crore mandays of employment at an expense of Rs 1,55,000 crore.

“Life expectancy in any country is the best indicator of human development index. Unprecedented progress, both socially and in terms of infrastructure during the tenure of UPA, has led to an increase of life expectancy of five years. In males, it has gone up from 62.3 years to 67.3. Among females it has gone up from 63.9 years to 69.6.”

Surjewala also drew attention to changes in the case of children. “Life-threatening diseases like tetanus, whooping cough, have been eradicated besides polio.”