New Delhi: Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi has slammed the central government for its alleged collusion with the Adani Group and for bringing down the social sector allocations in the latest Union Budget reportedly to benefit Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “few rich friends” and “cronies”.
“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,” wrote Sonia in an opinion piece for The Indian Express, in a veiled reference to billionaire Gautam Adani.
The tycoon is in the eye of a storm after American short-seller Hindenburg Research questioned his conglomerate’s debt levels and the use of tax havens, which resulted in a bloodbath of his shares.
Sonia continued in her piece: “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.”
The Congress on Monday protested in front of offices of the State Bank of India and the Life Insurance Company for “high exposure” to the Adani Group that has seen a cumulative loss in value of over $100 billion ever since the 24 January report.
Gandhi said even “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”.
To rub in her point, Gandhi wrote about the voices that conveyed “economic distress and disappointment” to the Congress’ “yatris” who walked the length of the country in the recently-concluded “Bharat Jodo Yatra”. The Kanyakumari-to-Kashmir outreach march was led by her son and MP Rahul Gandhi.
“…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. 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, adding that the Budget had failed to address these critical challenges.
“It is a silent strike on the poor by the Modi government, hitting at the heart of all far-reaching rights-based legislation enacted by the UPA government during 2004-14.”
She said that less funding for the rural-employment guaranteeing scheme, MNREGA, means that rural labourers would have less work. Sonia Gandhi accused the government of “deliberately” keeping wages under the scheme below market rates.
Funds for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan remaining stagnant for three years in a row, she said, would mean that schools will be “strapped for resources”, while funding for mid-day meals, which have fallen by a tenth this year, would have “less nutritious meals”.
“Rations to the poor have been halved since the 5 kg of free foodgrain under the PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana has been arbitrarily stopped. Similarly, schemes for minorities, the disabled, and pensions for the elderly, have all been summarily reduced. In addition, the rise in prices over the past four years means that every rupee buys about a quarter less than it did in 2018. This deadly combination of insufficient funding and rising inflation directly hurts our nation’s poorest and most disadvantaged,” Gandhi wrote.
She also attacked claims made by the government’s economic survey. “The Economic Survey cheerily declares “recovery complete”, since GDP has touched pre-pandemic levels. But only the richest Indians enjoy the benefits of this recovery. According to the RBI’s consumer surveys, the majority of people think economic conditions have been worsening every month since November 2019. The causes are plain to see — prices of daily commodities have continuously risen and the Modi government has failed to generate jobs, especially for the youth. People are forced to spend more on daily essentials, even as their incomes shrink,” she said in the piece.
“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,” she added.
Also read: Efforts to delegitimise judiciary is troubling, aimed at reducing its standing: Sonia Gandhi