The Congress would deliver on its ambitious Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) scheme without burdening the middle class or raising taxes, said party president Rahul Gandhi on Friday, remarking that if the UPA came to power in 2019, it would fund NYAY through money retrieved from economic offenders and crony capitalists.
In a packed interaction with students across Pune’s colleges and varsities, Mr. Gandhi said that the Narendra Modi-led BJP government had written off a whopping ₹3,50,000 crore in loans to the 15 richest business people in this country.
“How many jobs has Anil Ambani has given this country? How many jobs has Nirav Modi given this country?” Mr. Gandhi said, responding to a question on how the party proposed to fund their scheme.
“How many students here have had their education loans written off? Why is it that if your name is Anil Ambani or Nirav Modi your loans are forgiven whereas if you are a student or farmer, you can’t have your loans written off,” he said, adding that there was no shortage of money in this system and that it would come from the people who had dominated the banking system so far.
Veiled jibes at Modi
While reiterating that he did not hate Prime Minister Modi, Mr. Gandhi took veiled jibes at Mr. Modi and the BJP, remarking that he did not believe in making empty promises or sweeping statements.
“I like saying what is possible. Sometimes that doesn’t look as exciting like saying what one feels like [read Mr. Modi’s proclamations],” Mr. Gandhi said, responding to a question.
Over 4000 students congregated at Pune’s Mahalaxmi lawns In Hadapsar for a freewheeling interactive session with the Congress president. The event was moderated by RJ Malishka and actor Subodh Bhave.
Mr. Gandhi answered questions on a range of issues, from the personal to the political on the occasion.
Congress manifesto expression of people
Commenting on the Congress’ manifesto for the upcoming general election, he said that it was not an expression of the Congress party, but of the people of India.
“The manifesto that we put out is not really ours… We have gone to students, farmers, doctors, lawyers all stakeholders and asked them. The idea for the NYAY scheme idea hasn’t come from us (the Congress). It has come from the Indian people,” Mr. Gandhi said.
Answering a question on the Modi government’s demonetisation move, he said it was “a disastrous idea”.
Demonetisation — terrible effect on economy
“You can ask any economist about it… It had a terrible effect on the economy. Millions of jobs were lost, 2% of the GDP was lost. It is like an injury we have sustained and have no choice but to live with it.”
Responding to questions on unemployment and underemployment, the Congress president observed that 27,000 jobs were being lost every 24 hours in India while China is producing 50,000 jobs in the same time span.
“The reason for this is that in India, we do not respect skill or the capability of a person,” he said, remarking that it was imperative to respect skill and target it with financial and political support.
In this vein, he spoke on the flaws of the Indian university system, commenting that it was insular as varsities were not linked to jobs.
On education and healthcare
Remarking that there were 22 lakh government posts lying vacant, he said that India needed to build a solid education and health infrastructure along with effective public institutions.
He criticised the BJP-led NDA government for abdicating its responsibility towards establishing quality government institutions in healthcare and education
“There is a logic prevalent in this government that privatization will solve the problems in healthcare and education sectors. The Government has a responsibility to show the private sector that it can create quality institutions. Instead there have been dramatic cuts in education,” Mr. Gandhi said.
He promised that a UPA government, if it came to power, would increase its expenditure on education on education, raising it to 6 per cent of the total GDP.
Speaking on the need to kick-start the economy, Mr. Gandhi talked of the merits of the NYAY scheme, stating that putting ₹72,000 in the bank accounts of the poor would give the economy a much-needed boost.
On reservation for women
Answering a question on reservation for women, he said that once the UPA government came to power in 2019, 33% of Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha and Rajya Sabha seats are going to be reserved for women while 33% of all jobs should be reserved for women at the national level.
On the Congress’ plan to do away with the NITI Ayog and reinstate the Planning Commission, Mr. Gandhi said: “The difference between the NITI Ayog and the Planning Commission is that the former as all about the implementation of strategy, while the latter planned the country’s strategy by doing things at the national level.”
Commenting that the Planning Commission was a strategic institution, he said that India needed an institution that thought strategically at the global and not the local level like the NITI Ayog.
“NITI thinks only about tactics and not about strategy. The nature of the institution needs to be changed. India needs two or three strategic moves right now if we have to compete with China,” he said.
Welcomes open interaction
Extending the analogy of the Indian educational systems where questions were not welcome, Mr. Gandhi subtly targeted Mr. Modi’s authoritarian style of functioning.
“I am standing here and answering questions that I may not like or make me feel uncomfortable. Why does the Prime Minister not welcome such types of open, interactive functions?” he said, stating that the PM’s alleged lack of transparency derived from “an attitude that only he knew everything and no one knew anything.”
When asked as to who should take credit for the airstrikes on the JeM camp at Balakot in Pakistan, Mr. Gandhi said that the Indian Airforce deserved full credit for it.
“It is important that people know that they cannot mess around with India. While I am for the airstrikes, I am against its politicisation,” Mr. Gandhi said.
In yet another potshot directed at Mr. Modi, he said: “I feel uncomfortable when the Prime Minister politicises the strikes. I don’t do it, he does it but that’s his choice.”
He also acquiesced to a question on whether there ought to be a retirement age for politicians, stating that “60 is a very good for politicos to retire.”