The Congress party is championing the middle class in a change of tack as it seeks to counter the NDA’s pro-farmer, pro-rural general budget, and check further electoral losses.
Accusing the Centre of burdening the salaried class, chief party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala called finance minister Arun Jaitley’s budget an “inflationary budget” that discouraged the common man from saving. He was referring to the taxing of the Employee Provident Fund and Public Provident Fund on maturity.
“Inequality between rich and poor is widening. Union budget has imposed additional indirect taxes of Rs 20,670 crore. Indirect taxation is always regressive and hurts the poor and the middle class the most,” Surjewala said.
Over the years, support of the working class has been waning for the main opposition party, and gravitating towards other political parties. The Congress’ disconnect from the middle class was considered a major reason for its drubbing in the 2014 parliamentary elections. The BJP however, saw a huge surge in its vote bank.
On many occasions, party president Sonia Gandhi even acknowledged the eroding support as the party’s policies didn’t align with the aspirations of the salaried class.
As political parties focus on the upcoming assembly elections in five states – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry – the Congress does not see any immediate impact of the budget announcements on the polls.
Instead, Congress leaders were quick to point out that the BJP clearly had the 2017 Uttar Pradesh polls in mind, calling the budget “political”. The NDA government had come under intense fire for “ignoring” the farmers and rural India in its first two years of power.
“The crucial point in agriculture is the price. Last year, farmers were cheated. In many cases, there was a very poor increase in Minimum Support Price. In some cases, there was zero increase,” former finance minister P Chidambaram said. “Farmers are not getting fair and remunerative prices and only the price signal will cheer them up,” he said.
The issue of black money is another area where the Congress looks to nail the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poll promise of “depositing” Rs 15-20 lakh in every Indian’s bank accounts by bringing back 80 lakh crores of black money from foreign countries has been another rallying point for the Congress.
“The union budget protects black money generators and holders’ and incentivises tax evaders’. Last year’s budget introduced an amnesty scheme for deposit of black money stashed overseas. This has led to a disclosure of mere Rs 3,370 crore by 638 individuals only. This comes to approximately Rs 30 for every Indian instead of Rs 15-20 lakh that Modi ji promised,” Surjewala said.