After stirring a major controversy, Congress spokesman Raj Babbar has expressed regret for his remarks that one can have hearty meal in Rs. 12 in Mumbai and his party on Friday pleaded that the matter should now be allowed to rest.
Babbar's regret came after the Congress distanced itself from his remarks as also those of another party colleague Rashid Masood that meals could be had for Rs. 5 in Delhi.
"He (Babbar) has issued a categoric statement expressing regret. So we should leave the matter there," Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury told a press conference in New Delhi. While seeking to downplay the issue, she said she was not aware in what context Babbar had made the remarks.
To repeated questions on the matter, she replied that she had no authority to condemn or otherwise Babbar's statement.
But she referred to the statement issued by Congress' Communication Department in-charge Ajay Maken who said, "We do not agree with Rs. 12 & Rs. 5 statement of some leaders." The meal remarks made by Babbar earned widespread ridicule with parties dubbing these as "absurd", "foolish" and "illogical".
Babbar had told reporters in Mumbai on Wednesday: "People should have full meals two times a day. How one can have it is a very good question that you have asked. Even today in Mumbai city, I can have a full meal at Rs. 12."
"No, no, not bada paav. So much of rice, daal saambhar and with that some vegetables are also mixed," Babbar had said.
Put on the backfoot, Congress on Friday distanced itself from the remarks by two of its leaders that one could have meals at Rs. 5 and Rs. 12 which have been ridiculed by several parties.
"We do not agree with Rs. 12 & Rs. 5 statement of some leaders," said Ajay Maken, Congress general secretary and in-charge of communication department.
Meanwhile, Union minister Farooq Abdullah, who triggered a controversy by saying that people can fill their stomach by spending even Re one, also expressed regret on Friday even as he claimed that his remarks had been taken out of context.
"The question is that you can fill you stomach by spending Re 1 and cannot fill it even with Rs. 100. The question is what you want to eat. We want the country to progress. These things are necessary to take a country forward," Abdullah had said yesterday.
But after his remarks caused a furore, the National Conference leader today issued a statement saying his statement on poverty figures issued by the Planning Commission have been taken out of context.
He also expressed "regret" if his statement caused any hurt.
"My comments on the cost of a meal in the media have been taken out of context but I realise that what I said may be misconstrued. I regret any hurt this may have caused," Abdullah, whose party is an ally of the ruling UPA said.
The meal remarks made by Babbar and another party leader Rasheed Masood were dubbed as "absurd", "foolish" and "illogical" by various parties putting the Congress on the defensive.
Maken, in a statement, attacked BJP for criticizing the Rs. 33.30 Poverty Line figures of the Planning Commission, saying the opposition party, "should explain why it was Rs. 16.73 in 59th NSSO survey of 2003 and accepted by BJP/NDA Govt?".
"Unlike the BJP NDA, we have de-linked this poverty line from all 150 Central Govt schemes including NREGA, ICDS, MDM, NRHM, SSA, PDS except 1.
"NSSO survey-1993-94 to 2004-05 the avg. decline in poverty was 0.74%/year. During UPA it accelerated three times to 2.18% pts per year," Maken said on twitter.
He instead claimed that during Congress-led UPA, poverty has declined from 37.2% in 2004-5 to 21.9%...a decline from 40.71 crore to 26.93 crore people below the poverty line.
Babbar made the remarks when he was speaking after controversy erupted this week on how government calculates poverty data.
The Planning Commission estimates that the number of poor in the country has gone down from nearly 37% of the population in 2004-05-the year the ruling UPA came to power - to 21.9% in 2011-12. In other words, an additional 137 million people in India now earn more than the threshold Rs. 27.2 a day in rural areas and Rs. 33.3 in cities.
Is that income enough to buy full two meals in a city? Our readers don't believe so. In an online poll we did, 58% believed that they would need above Rs. 100 to buy two full meals.
As many as 40% believed they would need between Rs. 50 to Rs. 100 for two meals. Just 2% believed they would need under Rs. 50. (The poll was unscientific and 1,820 readers had taken part in it till 8 am, Friday).
No wonder then that the two politicians got flak from the Opposition and public alike.