The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PC trial run for budget talk show

New Delhi, July 9: Ahead of the Lok Sabha debate on his budget proposals, P. Chidambaram will have an interactive session on Monday with the ruling United Progressive Alliance MPs.

UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has called the first general-body meeting of member MPs next week to familiarise them with the details of the agricultural and social sector “policy initiatives and budgetary allocations” made in the coalition’s maiden budget, Congress sources said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, too, would address the meeting, they said. The sources, however, were not sure whether the MPs of the Left parties — which are not part of the alliance but extend outside support to the government — were invited.

A detailed briefing on the budget proposals was considered necessary to convey the right message about the Congress-led Centre’s resolve to give a new deal to people in rural areas who were “neglected” over the past few years, the sources said.

“The budget has laid down clear directions about its (UPA government’s) pro-farmer and pro-poor priorities,” said a Congress leader associated with the preparation of the party’s poll manifesto and the alliance’s common minimum programme.

“We want this message to reach the vast majority of people who have voted for a change and expect the new government to deliver on their expectations,” the leader added.

There is also an immediate political context to the Congress’ effort to establish its “aam aadmi (common man)” credentials through the budget. The party will soon face its first crucial electoral test after forming the UPA government — the Assembly polls in Maharashtra later this year.

Congress leaders believe that establishing the “aam aadmi” image would go a long way in transforming a not-so-bright Assembly poll scenario as broadly indicated by the party’s performance in the general elections.

Defending the budget from the BJP’s attempts to dismiss it as a directionless exercise, Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said: “Having neglected the agricultural and social sectors during its rule, the BJP is now unable to comprehend the direction of the budget. Therefore, its initial comments are reactionary and contradictory.”

“We do not expect that all sections of society would be pleased,” he said, but the budget proposals constitute the Centre’s intervention in favour of small and marginal farmers and landless labourers.

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