Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday said Union Budget 2023-24 is a ”silent strike” on the poor by the Modi government and hits at the heart of all far-reaching rights-based legislation enacted during the UPA rule.
In an opinion piece in The Indian Express, Gandhi also made an apparent reference to the allegations against the Adani Group, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministers are resorting to loud chants of ‘vishwa guru’ and ‘Amrit Kaal’, even as ”financial scandals” erupt over his ”favourite and favoured businessman”.
”The prime minister’s policy to benefit his few rich friends at the expense of poor and middle-class Indians has led to continuous disasters — from demonetisation to a badly-designed GST hurting small businesses, to the failed attempt to bring about the three farm laws and the subsequent neglect of agriculture,” Gandhi alleged.
”Destructive” privatisation has handed over priceless national assets to selected private hands cheaply, leading to unemployment, especially for the SCs and STs, she charged.
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”Even the hard-earned savings of crores of poor and middle-class Indians are threatened as the government forces trusted public institutions like LIC and SBI to invest in poorly-managed companies owned by its chosen friends,” she said in an apparent reference to the allegations against the Adani Group.
Adani Group stocks have taken a beating on the bourses after US-based activist short-seller Hindenburg Research made a litany of allegations, including fraudulent transactions and share price manipulation, against the Gautam Adani-led group, which has dismissed the allegations as lies.
Opposition parties, including the Congress, have alleged that the meltdown in Adani Group shares is a scam that involves common people’s money as LIC and SBI have invested in them.
”Bereft of ideas, the prime minister and his ministers are resorting to loud chants of ‘vishwaguru’ and ‘Amrit Kaal’, even as financial scandals erupt over the PM’s favourite and favoured businessman. This will be of scant help to crores of vulnerable Indians worried about their livelihoods, savings and futures,” Gandhi said.
It is now the duty of like-minded Indians to join hands, oppose this government’s harmful actions, and together build the change which people long to see, she said in her piece in the English daily.
”In the recently-concluded Bharat Jodo Yatra, yatris walked from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and interacted with lakhs of Indians from all walks of life. The voices they heard expressed deep economic distress and widespread disappointment about the direction in which India is headed,” Gandhi said.
Whether poor or middle class, rural or urban, Indians are being ”punished” by the triple menace of price rise, unemployment and falling incomes, she said.
”The 2023-24 budget not only fails to address these critical challenges but also worsens them by slashing allocations meant for the poor and the vulnerable,” the chairperson of the Congress’ parliamentary party said.
”It is a silent strike on the poor by the Modi government, hitting at the heart of all far-reaching rights-based legislations enacted by the UPA government during 2004-14,” the former Congress chief said.
Gandhi said that the promise of independence was of a good life for every Indian, not only to satisfy their basic needs but to have equal opportunities to empower themselves socially, economically, and politically.
The rights-based legislation of the UPA era was a deliberate cohesive step towards this goal, she added.
Rights-based laws empower citizens, and ensure it is the government’s duty to deliver on education, food, work, and nutrition, Gandhi stressed.
She alleged that the prime minister makes no secret of his ”dislike” for all this talk of rights.
”He began by ridiculing them in Parliament but was forced to rely on them during COVID-19. With this budget, he has rolled back funding to lows not seen in over a decade,” she said.
Rural labourers will have less work as funding for MGNREGA has been reduced by a third, bringing it below 2018-19 levels, Gandhi pointed out.
”Our schools will be strapped for resources, with funding for the rebranded Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan remaining stagnant for three years in a row. Children will have less nutritious meals, as funding for mid-day meals in schools has fallen by a tenth this year,” the former Congress chief said.
This deadly combination of insufficient funding and rising inflation directly hurts the nation’s poorest and most disadvantaged, she opined.
”As expected, there has been total silence from the Prime Minister on why this attack on social schemes was needed during this crisis. Reading between the lines, we understand that the rationale is to fund capital expenditure, which the budget has sharply increased,” she said.
Experts have raised doubts about the credibility of the figures, whether the funding can be well spent, and are wary that a large portion of the funding may reach only the government’s friends and cronies, Gandhi said.
However, even setting these doubts aside, there is a larger point — funding infrastructure at the expense of human development is a mistake, both in the short term and long term, the Congress leader argued.
In the long term, history teaches us that a healthy and educated population is the foundation for prosperity, Gandhi stressed.
Gandhi said that sharp cuts to social security, education, nutrition and health hurt the poorest today, and stunt the country’s progress tomorrow.