The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre works on poll lollies
- Juggling aam aadmi and America, government and Congress are dusting election planks

New Delhi, Sept. 4: Even as Manmohan Singh defends his ties with new friend George W. Bush, his party and government are busy working on an old ally: the aam aadmi.

A housing scheme billed as another Maruti and a health insurance programme for the poor are expected to be flagged off soon in preparation for elections that many Congress leaders feel will come sooner rather than later.

On August 30, as his government grappled with its worst crisis over the nuclear deal, the Prime Minister announced the health insurance cover for the poor, including a lifetime and disability net to one earning member of every family.

Three days before that, a hint that a housing scheme was on the cards came in a letter he wrote to chief ministers asking them to focus on “basic services” to the poor enshrined in the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. Housing was listed as one.

The “aam aadmi awas” programme is expected to be launched in October.

S. Sridhar, the chief managing director of the National Housing Bank, said the scheme would do to housing “what Maruti did in the ’80s with its 800cc car”.

The idea is to offer “affordable” houses of 25-square-metre area for under Rs 1 lakh (minus the land cost), he said in a presentation, comparing it to the concept of the indigenous small car.

Final touches are being given to the programme that came out of a proposal from the National Advisory Council, earlier headed by Sonia Gandhi.

Although the UPA-Left “peace committee” was announced late tonight to save the government by resolving the nuclear deadlock, Congress leaders see a real prospect of early polls and don’t want their pro-poor agenda to be hijacked. The party knows it cannot come back to power without the support of its original constituency: the common man.

The couple of big-bang announcements apart, the focus will be on chasing schemes already under way.

Although Sonia has stepped down, the advisory council meets regularly to initiate, monitor and recommend changes in programmes close to her heart: the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, a relief and rehabilitation policy for land oustees and the housing project.

The action taken report on the Sachar Committee’s findings on the status of minorities — tabled in Parliament on August 31 — was seen as a move to address the concerns of Muslims on perceived discrimination in jobs, education and access to micro-finance.

Even the nuclear deal with the US will be woven into the aam aadmi campaign.

Without awaiting a cue from the high command, some Uttar Pradesh leaders are already telling people villages will be self-sufficient in energy — har gaon, har ghar mein urja is the slogan — once the deal is operationalised.

In cities, the Congress will play the “nationalist” note by bracketing the Left and the BJP with China and Pakistan for opposing the deal.

“China and Pakistan will be more than a counter to the Left’s allegation of how the deal has enslaved India to the US. The upwardly mobile classes in the cities and towns are anyway sold on anything with a US tag but they are sceptical of China and have mixed feelings on Pakistan,” a general secretary said.

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