Narayan Lakshman & S. Vydhianathan
CHENNAI: The “real power” of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) “is in how it reshapes the labour market and puts a floor below poor people,” according to AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
Addressing mediapersons here on Thursday, Mr. Gandhi said the NREGA gave the poor support in the labour market by not letting them fall below a certain level. “No matter who you are, you can get 100 days of work at a particular salary,” he said.
“This has changed completely the dynamics in poor States like Uttar Pradesh, in areas where it has been used effectively, which frankly are limited.” In States like Andhra Pradesh, it has “revolutionised the system,” he said.
Arguing that the Congress had a different view from that of other parties in India, Mr. Gandhi said, “On the one side you have the BJP and its view is of an ‘India Shining’ concept. They say: let us focus all our efforts on that India with opportunity and let us not worry about the India with no opportunity.”
On the other side are the Left parties, which focus on the India without opportunity and ignore the India with opportunity, according to Mr. Gandhi.
“That is the difference between the three formations. What we are saying is, we are going to bridge these two Indias. And we are going to make sure that this one India that is formed has opportunity for all.”
Touching on the gulf between rich and poor India and the Congress approach towards bridging it, Mr. Gandhi said, “The central thrust of what the Congress does and is going to do for the next couple of years is try and recreate that one India but ensure that it is an India of opportunity for all.”
Underscoring the redistributive nature of welfare policies adopted by the UPA government, he said, “The idea is that you take the India of opportunity, you grow that India. Then you take some of the benefits and put them into the villages and thus engage and integrate that India into the first India.”
Mr. Gandhi said that in the effort to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich Indias, “NREGA is one such weapon we are using. Massive expansion of the education system is another weapon. Massive expansion of the health system is the third. Universal ID is the fourth weapon.”
Mr. Gandhi strongly opposed the integration of rivers in the country, stating that it would have serious implications on environment. He said interlinking of rivers within a State might be a workable proposal but the integration of the entire river system in the country would be “disastrous.” He hastened to add that this was his personal view and not that of the Central government.
Asked about the idea that MPs should fly economy class because of the downturn, Mr. Gandhi said austerity measures should be the norm. “I don’t think there should a phase where there should be austerity measures and then a phase where we should not have austerity measures. I think, as a politician, you have a duty to be austere.”