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Congress president Sonia Gandhi. (HT)
Congress president Sonia Gandhi. (HT)

MGNREGA has endured six years of a hostile government: Sonia Gandhi

  • Gandhi’s strong words over the issue follow the Congress’ repeated urge to the union government to make the MNREGA more lucrative for the poor, particularly for migrant labourers who have returned in larger numbers to their villages

NEW DELHI: Congress president Sonia Gandhi has hailed the rural jobs guarantee scheme for being the mainstay for the poor at the time of the covid-19 pandemic crisis and said the flagship programme, started by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, has endured "six years of a hostile government" referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance rule.

In an editorial published in The Indian Express on Monday, titled 'This isn’t BJP vs Congress', Gandhi said “It (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) is rational because it puts money directly in the hands of those who need it most. It has proved its worth in the years it has been in existence, even enduring six years of a hostile government. A government that sought to denigrate it, undermine it has come to reluctantly rely on it."

Gandhi’s strong words over the issue follow the Congress’ repeated urge to the union government to make the scheme more lucrative for the poor, particularly for migrant labourers who have returned in larger numbers to their villages owing to the nearly two-month long lockdown imposed to control the spread of the pandemic.

“On assuming office, Prime Minister Modi realised that shutting down the scheme was not practical. Instead he sought to deride it, attacking the Congress party in a caustic speech in which he called it 'a living monument of your failure'. In the years since the Modi government tried its best to throttle MGNREGA, hollowing it out and undermining it," she added in the editorial.

Gandhi also spoke about how the recent announcement by union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman to increase allocation for the rural jobs scheme spoke “eloquently" about the programme. As part of the financial package, Sitharaman last month said the government will allocate additional 40,000 crore for MGNREGS. This was in addition to the 61,500 crore announced in Budget 2020.

The scheme has been a bone of contention between the Congress and the BJP. While incumbent BJP has said there were several gaps in implementation of the scheme during earlier regimes and its focus was on integrating it further with other flagship programmes, Congress’ criticism has been the current government has not done enough for the scheme resulting in payments to workers being delayed and work being denied frequently.

“The Modi government may still be looking for some twisted logic to reconcile its dislike of a Congress party programme with its wholesale adoption of it," Gandhi said, adding that the time of national crisis was not about playing politics and the issue had nothing to do with Congress versus BJP. Instead, she suggested, the union government should use the ‘powerful mechanism’ to help people.

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