Congress In Firefighting Mode Amid Row Over Sam Pitroda's Remarks

Congress's Jairam Ramesh said "sensationalising" Sam Pitroda's comments is aimed at "diverting attention" from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "malicious and mischievous election campaign".

Congress leader Sam Pitroda is at the centre of a row over his remarks in an interview

New Delhi:

In a stunning own goal that has pushed the Congress on the backfoot, senior party leader Sam Pitroda today stoked the debate over the BJP's allegations that the Congress is planning a redistribution of wealth. Mr Pitroda's example of an inheritance tax in the US added fuel to the fire that the Congress has been trying to douse.

The Congress distanced itself from the senior leader's remarks and said they do not reflect the party's position. Congress's Jairam Ramesh said in a social media message that "sensationalising" Mr Pitroda's comments is aimed at "diverting attention" from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "malicious and mischievous election campaign".

Mr Pitroda, too, came out and said that he made the remarks as an individual. He said it was unfortunate that the comments were twisted "to divert attention from what lies PM is spreading about Congress manifesto".

"I mentioned inheritance tax in the US only as an example in my normal conversation on TV. Can I not mention facts? I said these are the kind of issues people will have to discuss and debate. This has nothing to do with policy of any party, including Congress," he said. "Who said 55% will be taken away? Who said something like this should be done in India? Why is BJP and media in panic?"

What Did Sam Pitroda Say

Mr Pitroda spoke to news agency ANI on the Prime Minister's attacks on the Congress manifesto and his allegations of a wealth redistribution plan. 

The manifesto calls for a nationwide socio-economic and caste Census to provide the data foundation for affirmative action. It does not, however, mention any wealth redistribution plan.

Mr Pitroda, chairman of Indian Overseas Congress, said the Prime Minister thinks that the Indian audience is a fool and can be manipulated easily.

"No Prime Minister would speak like this. Earlier I thought it was an AI-generated video. PM thinks the Indian audience is a fool and can be manipulated. He is not above the law. The manifesto of Congress is very well-drafted. To say that they will steal your gold and Mangalsutra. You are making stories up on your own. I think it is maybe due to fear, panic has been set in after the first phase. India is angry at the PM's comment," he said.

The Congress, he said, has always focused on the people at the bottom of the economic pyramid, whether they are OBCs, Muslims, Dalits or tribals. "Billionaires don't need our help. It is the poor people who need our help. Inequality has substantially increased in the last 10 years," he said.

"This doesn't mean that you are going to take your wealth and give it to somebody. This means to create new policies so that the concentration of wealth can be prevented. It's like a Monopoly Act," he said.

He then cited a US example. "In America, there is an inheritance tax. If one has 100 million USD worth of wealth and when he dies he can only transfer probably 45 per cent to his children, 55 per cent is grabbed by the government. That's an interesting law. It says you in your generation, made wealth and you are leaving now, you must leave your wealth for the public, not all of it, half of it, which to me sounds fair," he said.

It is worth pointing out that the US does not have a federal inheritance tax. In some states, such as Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, inherited assets are taxed. The payable tax depends on the amount of the inheritance and the relationship to the dead. This tax is only applied above a certain threshold and can go up to nearly 20 per cent of the inheritance.

Mr Pitroda said that this is a policy issue. "Congress party would frame a policy through which the wealth distribution would be better. We don't have a minimum wage (in India). If we come up with a minimum wage in the country saying you must pay so much money to the poor, that's the distribution of wealth. Today, rich people don't pay their peons, servants, and home help enough, but they spend that money on a vacation in Dubai and London," he said.

The BJP Sharpens Attack

In no mood to miss a full toss during election season, the BJP used Mr Pitroda's remarks to double down on their charge at the Congress. Leading the attack, Mr Shah appealed to the people to take Mr Pitroda's remarks seriously. "Their hidden plans have come out in the open. People should take note. And the Congress must withdraw the mention of survey from its manifesto," he said. "Our priority is not the minorities. Our priority is the poor, Dalits, tribals and backward sections," he added.

Assam Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma shared a video of the interview with the post, "Family Advisor is spilling the beans - their intention is 'organised loot and legalised plunder' of your hard-earned money."

Amit Malviya, who heads the BJP's IT cell, posted, "Congress has decided to destroy India. Now, Sam Pitroda advocates 50% inheritance tax for wealth redistribution. This means 50% of whatever we build, with all our hard work and enterprise, will be taken away. 50%, besides all the tax we pay, which too will go up, if the Congress prevails."

BJP spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill, who was earlier with the Congress, said the "cat is out of the bag". "Rahul Gandhi's main advisor Sam Pitroda 'hua to hua' Fame proposes "inheritance tax" like US where Govt takes 50%+ of your wealth! Voting for Congress = Losing your Money + Property + Belongings! Voters be aware, property snatchers are here!" he posted on X.

Congress' Firefight

The Congress moved into damage-control mode as Mr Pitroda's videos started doing the rounds on social media. Senior leader Jairam Ramesh posted, "Sam Pitroda has been a mentor, friend, philosopher, and guide to many across the world, including me. He has made numerous, enduring contributions to India's developments. He is President of the Indian Overseas Congress."

"Mr Pitroda expresses his opinions freely on issues he feels strongly about. Surely, in a democracy an individual is at liberty to discuss, express, and debate his personal views. This does not mean that Mr. Pitroda's views always reflect the position of the Indian National Congress. Many times they do not," Mr Ramesh clarified.

"Sensationalising his comments now and tearing them out of context are deliberate and desperate attempts at diverting attention away from Mr. Narendra Modi's malicious and mischievous election campaign; that is anchored ONLY in lies and more lies," he said.

Pawan Khera, chairman of Congress's media and publicity department, said Prime Minister Modi's remarks suggest that he has a problem with social justice. "In the past 10 years, the society's deprived section has been left far behind due to Mr Modi's policies," he said.

"Seventy per cent wealth of the country is in the hands of just 22 people. So you can understand what the policies in the past 10 years have been. This is why we need social justice. It is important to know what section of the population comprises Dalits, other castes, economically weaker sections. This is why we are giving the 'ginti karo' slogan," he said.

Stressing that Mr Pitroda had not said the Congress will bring any inheritance act policy and that no such policy is mentioned in the party's manifesto, he asked, "Is discussing and debating different ideas not allowed in this ancient land of Shastrarth?"