New Delhi: Worried about the political impact of drought and rising prices ahead of assembly elections in four states, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday asked party lawmakers and other functionaries to contribute one-fifth of one year’s pay for drought relief efforts in a symbolic gesture of concern.
All Congress members of Parliament, state legislators and salaried office bearers will “accept a 20% cut in their salaries for one year from 1 September...”, party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi told reporters in New Delhi.
The Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s top decision making body, at a meeting adopted a resolution urging the government and the party to “observe austerity measures to reflect the concern and sensitivity” of the Congress towards those hit by drought. The CWC met to review the drought and prices of essential commodities.
According to agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, 246 districts in 10 states— up to 47% of all the districts in the country —have been declared drought-affected while rainfall has been 29% deficient this monsoon.
According to a senior party leader, who attended the meeting but didn’t want to be named, Gandhi pressed the salary cut at the last minute, after the resolution had been prepared.
“The Congress chief had written it on a paper and handed (it) over to us to get the approval of the CWC,” he said. It wasn’t immediately clear how the pay would be deducted and channelled towards drought relief and how much the one-year contribution would amount to. The Congress has 276 members in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha combined.
Relief measures: Congress president Sonia Gandhi (centre) flanked by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee (left) and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the CWC meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday. Prakash Singh / AFP
The Congress, which led the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) back to power in the April-May general election, faces assembly polls in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh—all Congress-ruled states—and Jharkhand, which is under President’s rule. The autonomous Election Commission is expected to set poll dates next month.
The impact of drought and rising food prices on the elections is weighing on the party, which directed its state, districts and block units to “get fully involved in the management of the drought situation in the affected districts of India”.
The CWC directed the Congress-led UPA government to keep “strictest vigil on prices of essential commodities” so that they remain affordable to the poor, and to take stern action against hoarders.