The entire country has heard the cries of migrants 'except the government', Congress president Sonia Gandhi said on Thursday, while her party's leaders hoped that the Centre will wake up from its slumber and help those affected by the COVID-19-induced lockdown
In a video message posted as part of the Congress' 'Speak Up India' campaign, which was launched on Thursday, she also demanded that the government provide Rs 7,500 to each needy family for the next six months and Rs 10,000 as immediate cash to them.
Sonia Gandhi said that 'there is no dearth of money, it should be utilised properly'.
"That 20,000 crore which the government has kept for beautifying the central vista project in Delhi should be used to help these famished people walking on the roads," she said.
The Congress launched the campaign on social media to highlight the problems being faced by small businesses, poor, marginalised and migrants, and hoped that the government would at least now come out to help them.
Top Congress leaders, workers and supporters from across the country participated in the campaign, which the party claimed had reached out to over 10 crore people on all social media platforms.
Over 57 lakh party workers, supporters and leaders posted their message on social media asking the government to help those in need.
Senior Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken said "The 'SpeakUp India' campaign was the top trend in India and across the world, and this shows how people have participated in it and tried to wake up the government from its slumber."
It was a 'virtual rally' in which 10 crore people participated, he said.
Maken said that 'at least now the government should wake up from its slumber'.
There is no politics in this and the only aim is to amplify the voice of the people suffering, he said.
On Twitter, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said, 'It's time for every Indian to stand together and speak up in one voice. #SpeakUpIndia for our brothers and sisters struggling for survival; for those whose voice has been silenced; for those in despair and are fearful.'
"We are India. Together we can make a difference," he said.
In a video message on social media, Rahul Gandhi said the COVID-19 pandemic had triggered a storm across India. The worst hit in the process have been the poor of the country, he said.
"Labourers have had to walk thousands of kilometres without food or water. And our small and medium industry, which is the country's backbone and principal source of employment for many, are shutting down one after the other," Rahul Gandhi said.
He said India does not need credit, it needs cash.
"The poor need cash and that is why the Congress in one voice is making four specific demands on the government," the former party chief said.
Rahul Gandhi reiterated the party's demands of safe return of migrant to their home states, direct cash transfer to the poor, increased work days under MGNREGA and financial package for the small industry.
Sonia Gandhi lamented that even though the country is passing through a serious economic crisis with loss of livelihood, the central government has not helped those affected.
"It is for the first time since Independence that such a spectre of pain and anguish has been witnessed, where lakhs of famished and thirsty labourers have been forced to walk hundreds of thousands of kilometres back home barefoot and without any access to medicines or transport," she said.
"Everyone across the country except the government heard their cries of pain and trauma," she said in her video message on the party's social media handles.
Sonia Gandhi said instead of loans, the government should provide financial relief to small and medium industry so that crores of jobs are saved and the country progresses.
Noting that crores of livelihoods have been lost, lakhs of businesses and factories shut and farmers are running from pillar to post to sell their produce, she said, "The entire country endured this pain but probably the government did not."
"We again urge the Centre to unlock its coffers and help the needy. Put direct cash of Rs 7,500 per month in the account of every family for the next six months and provide Rs 10,000 immediately; ensure safe and free travel of labourers back home, employment opportunity and rations; and also increase the number of work days under MNREGA to 200 days to facilitate jobs in villages," the Congress chief said.
From day one, Congress workers and leaders, economists and social scientists and all leading citizens have told the government repeatedly to come forward and heal the wounds of people and help farmers, labourers, and traders, she recalled.
"We don't know why the Centre is refusing to understand this issue and implement measures to address it. That is why the Congress has decided that it will run a social campaign to power the voice of India," she said.
"I am putting forth these demands before you and the government will have to listen to your voice," Sonia Gandhi said, adding that the government's claim of giving 10 per cent of GDP as stimulus package is actually only one per cent of the GDP.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in her video message urged all political parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party, to stop playing politics on this issue.
Congress general secretary K C Venugopal in a statement said this campaign has emerged as the biggest and most robust digital protest movement in the country.