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Rahul meets PM to discuss rural jobs scheme

February 29, 2008 02:36 IST

First, it was Congress President Sonia Gandhi publicly indicating to Finance Minister P Chidambaram the direction she wanted the budget to take — more for farmers and women.

Then, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh virtually committed himself to a farm debt waiver package in the budget at a Congress party interaction with farmers where Gandhi was also present.

Today, the finance minister received another oblique suggestion for the budget, though it is uncertain how he can accommodate it in his budget speech, which is already under printing in the basement of North Block.

This was from Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with some young Members of Parliament from his party for a 'stock-taking exercise' on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme and ways in which it could be made more effective.

Although he did not address the budget directly, the timing just ahead of the event can be seen as a significant political gesture ahead of next year's elections.

"We had a meeting with the PM and discussed how the NREGA can be implemented in a better way," the younger Gandhi told reporters.

Gandhi and his colleagues submitted a few proposals like creating a central mechanism to monitor the works under the NREGA in different states.

Since many states have performed poorly, Gandhi wanted the United Progressive Alliance government to strengthen its role in rescuing the populist scheme ahead of general elections next year. The budget could be one way in which this could be done.

In his 2005 budget speech, the finance minister had announced the government's intention of turning the Food for Work programme into the NREGA. A hefty budgetary provision was also made for it.

The scheme was launched in 2006 in 200 districts. Rahul Gandhi had met the prime minister in September 2007 and subsequently the government announced it would extend the scheme all over the country from April 1, 2008.

That the Congress wants to showcase the NREGA as its USP was clear from the fact that Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (of the coalition party Rashtriya Janata Dal) was not called for the meeting and officials from his ministry were kept out.

Apart from the Prime Minister and Rahul Gandhi, the meeting was attended by the minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan and MPs like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasad, Milind Deora, Sandeep Dikshit and Tejaswini (all Congress MPs).

The meeting lasted for almost 15 minutes and was followed by a one-on-one chat between Singh and Gandhi. However, Rahul Gandhi, who is increasingly taking an interest in the flagship programme of the UPA government, refuted suggestions that he was trying to take the credit.

Saubhadra Chatterji in New Delhi
Source: source
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