Following the big-bang reforms, which dealt a cruel blow to the common man already battling inflation, the Congress-led government is now ready to unleash a populist trump card that it believes will bring a shift in popular sentiment prior to the general elections.
The government is planning to introduce the Food Security Bill which is expected to cover 70 per cent of the population, but could cost the exchequer at least Rs 1.19 lakh crore by way of subsidy.
“The draft Bill is being given the final touches by the Cabinet. This will ensure that the poor will have their stomachs full. Nobody will sleep hungry.
“And when the law comes into force, people will get good food at low prices. Seventy per cent of India will come within the ambit. We want to see which party can oppose the Food Bill,” Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid said in an exclusive interview to Rahul Kanwal on Aajtak’s Seedhi Baat.
Asked whether it could swing the tide in favour of the crisis-ridden UPA just like its flagship scheme, MGNREGA, did the last time, Khurshid said: “In a democracy, every political party has the right to showcase its achievements before elections. Some parties believe in putting hurdles, but we believe in portraying our good work.”
The minister also said that very soon the National Rural Health Mission ( NHRM) could be extended to the urban class – a clear attempt at addressing the discontent among the middle class.
Rebutting talks of running a minority government, Khurshid said: “These Bills will have political consensus,” meaning they would try to drive a political balance between populism and reforms.
And there’s another Bill in the pipeline to safeguard farmers.
“We will also table the Land Acquisition Bill. This was Mamata’s agenda in Singur. Can she oppose the Bill now? We are confident that the SP and other allies will back this Bill. So there’s no cause of concern about numbers in Parliament,” the law minister said.
So why did the UPA-II take three years to shake off policy paralysis and announce the reforms in one go? Was it to stave off intense pressure to allow the entry of foreign investors or was the Prime Minister more worried about global rating agencies than about the common man? “It’s all about timing. The move wasn’t sudden. We have to keep in mind when we make friends, anticipate when ties could snap and what alternatives we have,” Khurshid said.
He also tried to call the bluff of the Trinamool Congress and the BJP on FDI in retail.
“The BJP had even created a Cabinet note on FDI. It had even mentioned it in its manifesto. Why this U-turn now,” he asked.