New Delhi: Terming the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), 2005 as a shining example of a radical and rational systemic change, Congress president Sonai Gandhi, on Monday, urged the Union government to use it to help the people of India in their time of need.
"The Modi government has grudgingly come around to the significance of the programme. My plea to the government is, this is a time of national crisis, not a time to play politics. This is not a BJP versus Congress issue. You have a powerful mechanism at hand, please use it to help the people of India in their time of need", Ms Gandhi said in a column for Indian Express newspaper.
She said the MGNREGA programme is radical because it transferred power to the poorest of the poor and enabled them to escape hunger and deprivation.
"It 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", the Congress president said.
Ms Gandhi stated that in independent India there is no better example of this coming true than MGNREGA.
"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 charged.
Ms Gandhi further stated that the government's effort to throttle the scheme not succeeded because of the unrelenting pressure of activists, the courts and vocal opposition in Parliament and added, "the government was forced to step back".
"In a characteristic reversal, of course, it sought instead to give it a new appearance, by integrating it with the Prime Minister's pet programmes like Swacchh Bharat and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. These were passed off as reforms but in reality, they were no more than a barely disguised dressing up of Congress party initiatives. It is another matter that payments to workers were delayed interminably and work was denied frequently", she added.
Referring to the distress during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic hardship, she said the government was obliged to fall back on UPA's flagship rural relief programme.
"Deeds are more important than words, and nothing speaks more eloquently than the Finance Minister's recent and belated increase in the overall allocation of the programme to more than rupees one lakh crore. In May 2020 alone 2.19 crore households demanded work through the Act, the highest for the month in eight years", she added.
Criticising the government, the Congress president said 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.
"But the country recognises how the world's largest public works programme not only helped lift millions of Indians from extreme poverty but transformed Panchayati Raj, contributed to climate change mitigation and revived the rural economy. It heralded social change by ensuring equal pay to everyone, empowering women, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other vulnerable populations", she added.(UNI)