- Congress promises universal basic income in big pitch for 2019 elections
- "No one will be poor or go hungry in India," said Rahul Gandhi
- Plan takes forward UPA scheme assuring 100 days' work to every person
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi today announced what promises to be the party's big pitch in the coming general election -- a guaranteed minimum income for the poor across the country, much like the system of social security in the US. The Congress announcement comes as the government is reportedly considering a populist new scheme that would see cash transfer to farmers instead of subsidies as a sort of monthly income support. The idea also takes forward the MNREGA, the UPA government's flagship rural employment guarantee scheme that ensured 100 days' job to every person.
"The Congress has decided to take a historic decision... If voted to power in 2019, the Congress-led government is going to give minimum income guarantee," Mr Gandhi said at a farmers' rally in Chhattisgarh capital Raipur this evening.
"This means, each poor person in India will have minimum income. This means there will be no hungry, poor people in India," added Mr Gandhi.
The idea of a universal basic income for the poor is gaining traction in wealthier countries such as Finland and France. But there have been questions on how the Congress proposes to fund it.
Diverting funds from subsidy programmes would provide enough funds, news agency Reuters reported Congress leaders as saying.
"We cannot build a new India while millions of our brothers & sisters suffer the scourge of poverty. If voted to power in 2019, the Congress is committed to a Minimum Income Guarantee for every poor person, to help eradicate poverty & hunger. This is our vision & our promise," tweeted the Congress chief, whose party was targeted by the BJP for focusing on welfare measures instead of economic growth during its decade in power.
Buffeted by BJP allegations following a slower economy, the Congress had not given enough prominence to its welfare schemes in the campaign for the 2014 general elections,which saw a sweeping BJP victory.
Since the party's good showing in Gujarat and the recent victory in the assembly elections in the heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Mr Gandhi has repeatedly reiterated that the Congress "will not play on the backfoot".
Ahead of the assembly elections, the Congress had highlighted farmers' issue - the stance is seen to have served it well in the Hindi heartland. After the victory in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, one of the first acts of the party's governments had been to sign off on loan waivers.
The Congress chief had ended the last week on a high, announcing the entry of his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra into active politics from eastern Uttar Pradesh, which would pitch her against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his constituency Varanasi, and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath from his home turf Gorakhpur.
He also upgraded the top leadership in the state, putting Jyotiraditya Scindia in charge of Western Uttar Pradesh, signalling the party's seriousness about elections in the state.
The weeks before it had seen Mr Gandhi, left out of the Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav alliance in Uttar Pradesh, declare that the party will contest all 80 seats in the state.