Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said the minimum guaranteed income promised by the Congress to the poorest of poor is a "surgical strike on poverty" for which former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan was also consulted even as the party maintained it is not a "top-up scheme".
The Congress also announced that women from poor families will get Rs 72,000 per year directly in their bank accounts as part of the party's income supplementing scheme and asked whether the Bharatiya Janata Party was opposed to the idea.
The proposal is not a work-oriented scheme, it said.
According to Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, the party has already worked out the finances for the 'Nyunatam Aay Yojana' (Nyay) that will entail a total expenditure of Rs 3.6 lakh crore. The scheme was unveiled by Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president, on Monday
However, the BJP latched on to Surjewala's remark that the poll promise was not a "top-up scheme" to claim 'volte-face' by the Congress.
"Classic Congress style volte-face within 24 hours. They are misleading the people of this country and can never be trusted," the BJP tweeted.
It also tagged a video in which Gandhi is heard saying at his press conference in Delhi on Monday that his party will give a "top-up" to the 20 per cent poorest families to ensure they earn Rs 72,000 a year, while Surjewala is heard telling reporters that the scheme is not about top-up and all such families will be given Rs 72,000.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath termed the scheme as a poll "gimmick" while rebel BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha showered praise on Gandhi, calling him the "master of situation" and his proposal a "masterstroke".
On Monday, Gandhi announced that Rs 72,000 per year will be given as minimum income benefiting around 25 crore people belonging to the poorest sections, if his party is voted to power in the Lok Sabha polls.
Addressing a series of rallies in Rajasthan, Gandhi said the promised minimum income scheme was a "big bang" and asserted it is not a "free gift" to the poor but is justice.
"Dhamaka hai ye... bomb fatega (It's a big bang... set off a bomb). This is a Congress's surgical strike on poverty. They (the BJP) worked to eliminate the poor we will eliminate poverty," Gandhi said.
"Nobody should be poor in the country in 21st century,"
Gandhi also said the Congress has been working on a plan for the last six months on how to eradicate poverty.
On helping the poor, he said, "We thought how it should be done. After discussion and brainstorming, we thought that there should be a minimum income line of Rs 12,000 per month. Soon after formation of the Congress government in 2019, the minimum income line in India will be Rs 12,000 per month."
Addressing Congress workers later in Jaipur, Gandhi said the minimum income scheme was discussed with big economists including Raghuram Rajan, a former RBI governor, before coming up with the idea.
"We consulted all big economists, without telling anyone without giving any speech. We were engaged in this work for six months. Take the list of all big economists of the world, we consulted them... Raghuram Rajan... one by one," he said.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Monday dismissed the Congress promise, saying the party has a history of "cheating" the poor and misleading the country in the name of removing poverty.
In 1971, Rahul Gandhi's grandmother and then prime minister Indira Gandhi had given 'Garibi Hatao, Desh Bachao' (remove poverty, save the nation) slogan during the general election campaign. Years later, PM Modi, during a speech in 2018, termed the 'Garibi Hatao' slogan a "false promise".
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman took a dig at the Congress, saying it is still relying on the 'Garibi Hatao' slogan coined by Indira Gandhi as they could not drive away poverty during their rule.
"They are coming up with the Garibi Hatao slogan again.
Is that because they could not drive way poverty all these years?" she said at a press meet in Udupi in Karnataka.
At his news conference in Delhi, Surjewala accused the BJP leadership of opposing the scheme and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP to clearly spell out whether they supported it.
Surjewala said 'Nyay' is not a "top-up scheme" and is a women-centric scheme, the modalities of which would be worked out once the party assumes power.
The scheme, party leaders say, is not a work-oriented scheme and will provide money directly into the bank accounts of women in the family to help them come out of poverty.
The leaders also said the party would work out the finances after they assume power and refused to answer queries that it will strain the country's economy and add to the fiscal deficit.
"This is an income supplementing scheme to pull the family out of poverty and that is why the money is being paid directly into the accounts of women of poor families," Surjewala said.