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Congress divided on Nyay before Lok Sabha polls

Several leaders considered the minimum income guarantee scheme ‘stupid’ and unfeasible
Congress President Rahul Gandhi with the party MPs from Punjab at Parliament on the second day of the first session of 17th Lok Sabha, in New Delhi, Tuesday, June 18, 2019.

Sanjay K. Jha   |   New Delhi   |   Published 21.06.19, 10:08 PM

The Congress was a deeply divided house ahead of the electoral rout this summer, with many senior leaders sceptical about the core campaign promise of Nyay, insiders have told this newspaper.

They said several leaders considered the minimum income guarantee scheme (Nyuntam Aay Yojana or Nyay) “stupid” and unfeasible, and some did express their doubts in front of Rahul Gandhi.

But everyone had to rally behind the scheme, they added, after the Congress president “unilaterally” announced it at a rally in Chhattisgarh.

“It had not been discussed at any meeting before the announcement — not in the core committee constituted for the election, nor in the Congress Working Committee,” a source said.

Nyay, a word that means “justice” in Hindi, had been the pivot of the Congress campaign this general election. The party’s theme song and tagline “Ab hoga nyay (Now there’ll be justice)” revolved around the promise to pay Rs 72,000 to the country’s poorest 20 per cent households every year.

The scheme was touted as a “game-changer” capable of lifting millions out of poverty in five years. Rahul relied heavily on its supposed appeal, claiming it would trigger economic activity at the grassroots apart from addressing the concerns about poverty.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra held the scheme up as proof of the Congress’s commitment to economic justice along with the rural job guarantee scheme and Food Security Act, implemented during the UPA’s tenure.

An impression had gained ground during the electioneering, however, that the message about Nyay hadn’t penetrated deeply enough to capture the people’s imagination. Now some key Congress leaders are saying the poor had refused to believe it could be implemented.

“The manifesto committee chairman, P. Chidambaram, didn’t know about the scheme when it was announced. To be fair to him, he came round to supporting it at a later stage,” a Congress insider said.

“None of the core committee members knew that Rahul was going to make this sensational announcement.”

Rahul made the announcement on January 29 in Raipur, about two months and a half before the election. The nitty-gritty had yet to be worked out but a monthly dole of Rs 6,000 was decided as a feasible limit.

But some leaders now say the party had “very reluctantly” gone along with the idea only to honour the words of its president.

They say the head of the party’s data analytics department, Praveen Chakravarty, and some of his apolitical aides had convinced Rahul and Priyanka that Nyay was going to be the turning point.

The scheme’s critics, however, are not inclined to explain their reservations in detail, choosing instead to point to the election results as vindicating their point.

However, data analysts say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had gained from the announcement of a Rs 6,000 annual income support scheme for small and marginal farmers, along with other welfare schemes relating to cooking gas, rural housing and toilets.

Whatever the merits of Nyay, it’s clear that the Congress approached the elections while grappling with disunity in its higher echelons. The relationship among many of the top 30-40 people managing the campaign, it seems, was one of mistrust and irreconcilable disagreements.

The majority of party leaders now fault Rahul also for the blunt “Chowkidar chor hai” slogan. They also feel that the manifesto promise to scrap the sedition law and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was an own goal.

Asked why these issues were not debated and sorted out before the election, the standard answer is: “Koi sunta nahi (Nobody listens).”


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