United Opposition push for cash dole to poor
In a joint statement, they also accused the Modi government of “unabashedly” usurping powers vested in the states and undermining the constitutionally guaranteed federal democracy. Although the charter of demands included release of substantial funds to the state governments, which are in the frontline of combating the pandemic, they did not go into the specifics of the dues the Centre owes each state.
The chief ministers also articulated the need to be consulted on allowing international and domestic flights in their respective jurisdictions. Essentially, they were keen that the experience of the past couple of months is not repeated where the Centre takes unilateral decisions and then blames the states when things go wrong.
Calling out the government’s grand announcements that count for little, they demanded a revised economic package; not the Rs 20 lakh crore package that, according to Mamata, misleads the people.
In her opening remarks, the Congress president underscored the fact that the economic slowdown predates the pandemic and described the economic package — unveiled in five instalments — as a “cruel joke” on the country.
“I am also of the view that the government was uncertain about the criteria for lockdowns, nor does it have an exit strategy. Successive lockdowns have yielded diminishing returns,” Sonia said.
Far from offering succour and support, the government had embarked on a “wild adventure” of “so-called reforms” including a “grand clearance sale” of PSUs and repeal of labour laws. “We deplore these unilateral moves,” she said.
“There is not even a pretence of consultation with stakeholders or debate in Parliament,” the Congress president said. “The government has abandoned any pretence of being democratic and all power is now concentrated in only one office — the PMO.”
What is most worrying is not that the government has no solutions but that it has no empathy or compassion for the poor, Sonia said.
Twenty-two like-minded parties from across the length and breadth of the country, which pointed out they represent over 50 per cent of the people of India, demanded direct cash transfer of Rs 7,500 to all those outside the income tax bracket, an increase in MGNREGA work days and a reversal of the annulment of labour laws.
Participating in a video conference convened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, they underlined that all of them had extended full cooperation to the Centre in combating the coronavirus crisis but this was not reciprocated.
“Sadly, we have to point out that the Union Government has failed in discharging its responsibilities in a timely, effective and sensitive manner,” the parties said in a joint statement.
Three chief ministers — Mamata Banerjee, Uddhav Thackeray and Hemant Soren — were among the 22 participants. Thackeray, a recent recruit to the Opposition camp, was scathing in his criticism of the Centre, sources said. He said it was easy to do politics but difficult to show light at the end of the tunnel, the sources said.
The BSP, Samajwadi Party and AAP did not attend the meeting.
“The like-minded parties believe that this is neither the time for the government at the Centre to indulge in showmanship nor for one-upmanship. This is the time for a gigantic collective endeavour. This is what the people of India need, and this is what the people of India demand. It is important that the government of India reach out and engage in a dialogue with all political parties in a systematic manner, listen seriously to the suggestions that we have to make, activate parliamentary institutions like standing committees and is genuine in helping the states financially and otherwise,” the 22 parties said.