Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Friday said his party's manifesto was an expression of the people of India and ruled out burdening the middle class to fund the anti-poverty scheme Nyunatam Aay Yojana (Nyay).
The Congress, in its manifesto, has said that if voted to power, it will give Rs 72,000 per year as minimum income to poor families, benefiting around 25 crore people, a move he called a ''surgical strike'' on poverty.
Interacting with students in Pune, Mr Gandhi said the manifesto has been prepared after consultations with all stakeholders.
"The middle class will not be taxed and income tax will not be increased to implement the Nyay scheme where Rs 72,000 will be deposited in bank accounts of poor people every year if the party is voted to power," he said.
The Nyay minimum income guarantee scheme is estimated to cost Rs 3.26 lakh crore to the national exchequer. The BJP, which has criticised the scheme, has sought to know how it will be funded.
Senior Congress leader and former Union minister P Chidambaram has also said the middle class won't bear the burden for implementation of the Nyay scheme.
"I have already said in press conference and various interviews: there will be no increase in the tax burden of the middle class. This is our promise," Mr Chidambaram tweeted.
During the free-wheeling interaction, moderated by RJ Malishka and actor Subodh Bhave, Mr Gandhi answered a number of questions, ranging from politics, his personal life and his bond with sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Asked about Priyanka Gandhi's s twitter post calling him courageous, Mr Gandhi replied, "I am persistent, I stand up for people who are weak."
He said the Congress was committed to provide 33 per cent reservation to women in Parliament and assemblies to substantially increase their representation in the state and central legislatures.
Mr Gandhi described demonetisation as a "disastrous idea", which had a terrible impact on the economy.
He said the exercise, announced in 2016, caused two per cent fall in GDP growth and led to loss of millions of jobs.
He said that previous Planning Commission was a strategic institution, while its successor Niti Ayaog only talks about implementation and tactics.
"We need institutions to strategically think what should be done at the national level. Implementation and tactics can be done by the states," he said, responding to a question on the Congress manifesto promise of scrapping Niti Ayaog, the think-tank set up by the Modi government.
Mr Gandhi said the Congress, if voted to power, will focus on strengthening health care and education.
On being asked who should take credit for the Balakot air strike, Mr Gandhi said, "the (Indian) Air Force should take credit. It is important that people know they can't mess around with India."
The Congress leader said he was against politicisation of the air strike. "I feel uncomfortable that the PM does that. But it is his choice," Mr Gandhi said.
Mr Gandhi said he does not claim to have answers to all questions. "I want you to make me feel uncomfortable so that I go back and revisit the question and start looking for answers," he said.
When Mr Bhave, who has acted in biopics on Lokmanya Tilak and Bal Gandharv, said he wants to do a biopic on him and asked who should be the heroine, Mr Gandhi quipped, "Unfortunately, I am wedded to my work."
Asked about facing criticism on social media, Mr Gandhi said, "Those who want to live in virtual reality, they are free to do so. But, one can't run away from reality.
"In the end you have to face it. I live in reality. Violence doesn't benefit anyone. It gives only false sense of confidence," he said.
To a query, Mr Gandhi said, "I love Modi. Genuinely I have no hatred or anger towards the man."
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