Rahul Gandhi on Friday signalled that the cash transfer scheme beginning from the New Year could be the Congress trump card in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections like the farmers loan waiver and NREGA earlier.
"Rahul Gandhi said that your money in your hands is definitely a political slogan. We are fully confident that we will move forward with it before 2014," Union minister Jairam Ramesh told reporters at a specially convened briefing in New Delhi in AICC.
Ramesh also quoted Gandhi as saying that "your money in your hand is an effective instrument of Congress and the government to fight against corruption."
He was addressing the press hours after Gandhi conducted a closed-door special training session for 51 district Congress presidents and Youth Congress presidents on the scheme titled as Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system. It has been hailed by finance minister P Chidambaram as a "game changer".
The scheme is being started in the districts on a pilot basis. Ramesh was one of Union ministers along Chidambaram, who on Friday addressed the district Congress leaders in Rahul's presence.
Party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi, who shared the dais with Ramesh at AICC, however, had a different take, saying while there will be people who could dub it a "political slogan, but "for us it is a scheme for the welfare of the people".
Ramesh also quoted Rahul as saying that Information Technology will have an important role in the fight against corruption and that the DBT system is "not just a scheme but a fundamental transformation of the delivery system".
Rahul also recalled the famous statement by his father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi about that only 15% money of the schemes meant for the beneficiaries reach them while the rest land in the hands of middlemen, he said. "If we are successful in this system (DBT), 100 out of 100 rupees meant for the beneficiaries will reach them."
Noting that there was a PCO revolution in the country before the mobile revolution came, Rahul said that the DBT scheme will also be the beginning of a change in the nation's delivery system in the same mannner in which PCOs led the foundation for the telecom revolution.
Ramesh said there was "no plan right now to bring Public Distribution System" under the ambit of DBT. "Food subsidy is not on the agenda of the government for this," he said.
The minister said that LPG, kerosene and fertilizer subsidies will be taken up under it but this process will take at least one year. Right now the DBT system will be applicable in payment of scholarships, MNREGA wages, pension and other welfare schemes, he said.
In the meeting, Rahul addressed leaders of the 51 district where the scheme will be launched from January 1, asking them to put in their best efforts and ensure its success.
He also told them how the scheme will directly benefit people concerned by eliminating middlemen and shortening the process of cash subsidies.
Rahul also said that he intends to visit a maximum of these 51 districts.
He said that 94 crore people in India have mobile phones, adding, "The most democratic instrument in the country is mobile phone. The opening of the delivery system will benefit in the same manner as the advent of mobile has led to a democratisation"
A total of 170 people attended the two-and-a-half hour long meeting in which Rahul and Chidambaram stayed for over two hours. "It has been our efforts that when important decisions are made, there should be coordination between the party and the government," Ramesh said.
He said that this is done everytime when flagship progammes are executed and recalled that it was done even when MNREGA was implemented.
Talking separately, AICC leader Shakeel Ahmed said that Rahul told the district Congress leaders that this scheme will ensure that money reaches the beneficiaries directly.
Ahmed said that with over a fortnight left for the launch of the first phase of the scheme, district Congress presidents were told to make their maximum efforts and update the list of beneficiaries.
He also hoped that the scheme will prove to be a "game-changer" for the Congress party, many of whose programmes have been hijacked by various state governments.
"We do hope that it is going to be game-changer and we are trying to give as much facilities (as possible) to the people to uplift their standard of living," he said.
Ramesh said that Rahul also emphasised that party workers should also contribute creatively to convey the message of Congress to the people and apprise them of the need to have Aadhar numbers and bank accounts, the two pre-requisites for getting benefits under the DBT scheme.
The Union minister claimed that a number of non-Congress chief ministers whom he had met have promised full cooperation with regard to the scheme. "Some chief ministers even criticised us that we are not revolutionary enough in the matter as we have excluded food subsidy from its ambit," Ramesh said.
Sources in the government said that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was in favour of food subsidy also coming under the ambit of DBT.
They claimed that Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan had also assured full suport to the scheme.
Chhattisghar chief minister Raman Singh had written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying that the cash transfer scheme should not substitute food subsidy and PDS.
Ramesh made it clear that the scheme "will not substitute PDS" and it has not been even discussed so far.
The minister said that when having bank accounts was made mandatory for getting wages under MNREGA, 10 crore bank accounts were opened and a similar pattern will follow when the DBT system is implemented.
Ahmed said that the scheme's next phase will try to include all 620 districts in the country and efforts are being made to ensure its smooth implementation at all levels as it was mentioned in the party's 2009 manifesto.