Sonia summons CMs, PCC presidents for discussions on taking message to people

Close on the heels of the UPA government pushing through the food security ordinance, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has summoned her party’s 14 Chief Ministers as well as all PCC presidents to the capital for July 13 to discuss how to take the message of this move to the people.

Saturday’s meeting will be attended also by party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, all general-secretaries and members of the Congress Core Group that includes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ms. Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and Union Ministers P. Chidambaram and A.K. Antony. Food Minister K.V. Thomas will also be in attendance.

This will be the party’s first major gathering after its chintan shivir in Jaipur in January this year.

The party, now in election mode, is determined to use the next 10 months to project its promise of food security to 67 per cent of the population — and the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme — as UPA II’s MGNREGA; in UPA I, the rural employment guarantee scheme, along with farm loan waiver, brought an additional 60-odd Lok Sabha seats and a second term in power. In addition, there are Assembly elections due in key States later this year — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi.

Indeed, the Congress-ruled Delhi is all set to become the first State to roll out the food security scheme. On Monday, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said it would be launched on August 20, birth anniversary of the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

Saturday’s meeting will focus on how to ensure that the Congress-ruled States become role models in implementation of the food security measure, said party sources. The party wants the scheme implemented as swiftly as possible so that it will be well in place by the time the Lok Sabha elections take place.

Last Friday, Congress communication chief Ajay Maken, making a pitch for food security, described the government’s clearing the ordinance — in fulfilment of a manifesto promise — as a sign of its credibility that people would “take into account” when they cast their votes. “This will be a game-changer,” he said, “for the poor people.”

On Monday, Mr. Maken called a meeting of party spokespersons who were briefed by Mr. Thomas on the various aspects of the ordinance, as well as instructed in responses to Opposition criticism. For instance, while the Bahujan Samaj Party has dismissed the measure as an “election gimmick”, the Samajwadi Party has called it “anti-farmer.” The spokespersons will now travel to all State headquarters and hold press conferences on food security.

When implemented, the UPA’s food security programme will be the biggest in the world with the government spending an estimated Rs. 1,25,000 crore annually on 62 million tonnes of rice, wheat and coarse cereals for 67 per cent of the population.

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