Following up on the promise he made at the AICC session on January 17, Rahul Gandhi on Thursday reached out to the strata between those who live below the poverty line and the middle class.
The Congress vice-president said the party would focus on these 70 crore people to give them basic healthcare, education and a living wage so that small setbacks did not push them into the BPL category again.
At a daylong meeting at Jawahar Bhawan here — part of the Congress’s public consultations with different sections — he sought direct feedback from those working in the unorganised sector (labourers and street vendors) for inclusion in the party manifesto.
When a policy was framed, it should ensure that these people had “a concrete base support so that they are assured that whatever the circumstances, their condition will not plummet beyond that base.” The country’s target over the next five to 10 years should be that these 70 crore people were able to enter the middle class. “These are the people who run the country,” he said.
Mr. Gandhi said he would push for getting the Street Vendors Bill passed in the coming session of Parliament.
At the interaction, there was a demand for a national commission for labour, on the lines of the National Commission for Women, as well as an increase in the salary of anganwadi workers, social security for labourers in the unorganised sector, an increase in pension, protection for women workers, and welfare of plantation labourers.
The Congress’ attempt to address this new growing class is also being read as an effort to create a new constituency, with its traditional base among the poor snatched, at least in Delhi, by the Aam Aadmi Party and the slow inexorable return of the urban middle class to the BJP. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the urban middle class overwhelmingly voted for the Congress.
At his last few interactions, Mr. Gandhi made a strong pitch for skill development and employment generation through honing of skills and giving such skilled labour an identity.
Interacting with labour representatives from the organised and unorganised sectors, he referred to a 2010 train journey he made from Gorakhpur to Mumbai, during which he had a long discussion with migrant workers from eastern Uttar Pradesh. “I interacted with a number of labourers and asked them what their insecurity is. Their response was that they do not know what they will face tomorrow. They told me that I have solid ground under my feet which they do not have.” The government, therefore, needs to provide them with a social safety net.
Recalling his interactions during his 30-hour train journey with artisans, ironsmiths and painters, Mr. Gandhi said their skills had no official recognition and they were dependent on contractors for livelihood because they did not have a certificate or proof of skills. The next consultation will be with farmers. Mr. Gandhi has so far held consultations with representatives of minorities, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (both in Delhi), youth (in Bangalore), women (in Bhopal) and elected representatives of panchayats (in Wardha).