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Cong to hard sell Food Bill and Sonia as messiah of poor

August 27, 2013 22:58 IST

The Food Security Bill, the Land Acquisition Bill and the Aadhar card could bring electoral dividends to the government as it tries to hard to woo the poor, reports Renu Mittal

Billed as a game changer, the Congress party has decided to hard sell the Food Security Bill as a major pro-poor initiative that will change the lives of crores of people. At the same time, the party has decided to project it as the result of Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s vision to give food security to the poor and marginalised, despite hurdles created by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.

Seen as a personal initiative of Sonia Gandhi, even opposition leaders like Sushma Swaraj complemented her when she said it was the result of Sonia Gandhi forcing the government to accept the bill. The opposition found a number of problems with the bill and a large number of amendments were moved by the BJP, the left, Biju Janta Dal and other parties, but when it came to passing the bill, it was unanimously passed.

While the house voted on numerous amendments, the bill was passed unanimously when leader of the house Sushma Swaraj said they supported the bill. It was passed by a voice vote.

While all senior leaders were present, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav decided to remain absent though his party was present when the bill was passed.

Sonia Gandhi herself was not present during the voting on the bill as she suddenly took ill. 

Sources say she regretted she could not be present to participate in the passage of the bill. Sonia, who fell ill in Parliament, sat in Minister of Urban Development Kamal Nath’s room in Parliament as she felt dizzy and uneasy. But she returned when the house began voting on the amendments. As she continued to feel uneasy she left the house again and headed straight to AIIMS. She was discharged around 1 am in the morning after check up.

Political parties could not afford to be seen as opposing a bill that gave legal and basic right to food for the people of the country. The bill will cover 67 percent of the population, 75 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas. It is being seen as one of the biggest government programmes anywhere in the world.

Congress spokesman Bhakta Charan Das thanked Sonia Gandhi for the bill and in an emotional briefing hailed her as a messiah of the poor. Hailing from Kalahandi in Odisha, Bhakta Charan Das said only a poor man like him and hundreds of crores like him can realise the meaning of what Sonia Gandhi has achieved. He said if there is lopsided development, it may lead to civil war in the country.

With the economy in bad shape, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram spent the entire day either on television screens, in the Rajya Sabha and in the Lok Sabha explaining the rationale behind the economic slowdown and assuring the members that the government of organising the resources for the ambitious food security programme.

The government is bringing the Land Acquisition Bill in the Lok Sabha on Thursday and next week the government is determined to bring the pension or the insurance bill or both.

Alongside a major social sector initiative, the government has decided to focus on the economy as efforts are on to bring in FDI and open up the insurance and pension sectors.

Privately opposition leaders admit that the Food Security Bill, the Land Acquisition Bill and the aadhar card could bring electoral dividends to the government as these could become the instruments to woo the poor as well rope in the minority votes. The scare of Gujarat Chief minister and BJP’s defacto prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi looms large on and off television screens.

While the government has already launched the Bharat Nirman advertising campaign highlighting the various rights given to the people by the UPA governments in its nine years in power, a special campaign will be formulated on the Food Security Bill with Sonia Gandhi as the main focus as the messiah of the poor. The party is also working on countering the ongoing campaign that the Food Security Bill would harm the interests of the farmers.

The bill would come up in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.

Renu Mittal in New Delhi