India’s voters appear to be divided into two categories — Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s forgotten poor and the middle class being wooed, corporate style, by BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
On October 9, at Aligarh and Rampur in UP, Gandhi predicted that a government of ‘yuva, mahila aur garib’ (youth, women and poor) would come to power in 2014. Some political experts believed he had repackaged Indira Gandhi’s slogan ‘roti kapda aur makaan’ of the 1970s, which was drowned by cries of Mandal and Mandir a decade later.
Others felt Congress strategists had factored the youth into Gandhi’s pro-poor outlook to counter the ‘Modi magic’, perceived to have enchanted the young electorate, besides vindicating Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speculation that the young, and not veterans, would helm UPA-3, if formed.
Most, however, agreed Gandhi’s ‘bhar pet roti khaayenge, Congress ko vaapas laayenge’ slogan — pitched emotionally with Sonia Gandhi’s outburst after not being able to vote on the food security bill — followed Modi’s bid to capitalise on the middle class disenchantment with UPA-2, thanks to price rise.
But while the NRI- and corporate-backed Modi brigade has not spelt out its priorities for the middle class, the Congress has felt the need to carry Rahul Gandhi’s pro-poor initiative to the masses. The party is aware that the food security bill could help it more than the land acquisition bill for staging a comeback in UP.
The Congress, though, would have to go beyond rhetoric.
The Indian State Hunger Index made by the International Food Research Institute in 2009 put 17 states in the ‘alarming’ category. “It is disconcerting that not a single Indian state falls in the ‘low hunger’ or ‘moderate hunger’ category, defined by the Global Hunger Index of 2008,” the report said.
Another report by Badri Narain of the Dalit Resource Centre on Mushahars — a scheduled caste community numbering 1 million in UP, often driven by poverty to eat rats — in Varanasi underscored the ignorance level among the poor. Only one woman knew about the government’s decision to provide them food grains at Rs. 2 a kg against the Rs. 16 they were paying in 2009.
“The ambitious food programme could prove to be the game changer if the Congress machinery provides it to the beneficiaries fast,” he said.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress reaped the benefit of the loan waiver scheme to win 21 seats in UP. The support of Muslims, who were angry with the Samajwadi Party for joining hands with Babri mosque ‘demolition man’ Kalyan Singh, was a factor too.
BSP leader Mayawati has foreseen the political damage the food security bill can cause to her constituency. The doubts she raised in the Rajya Sabha about the viability of the scheme were published in a bulletin and circulated in the poll-bound states.
She has now sought food grains for scheduled castes and tribes and other backward castes at half the cost proposed in the bill. The SP, too, is embarking on a ‘pichra varg yatra’ to foil the Congress’ plan to woo the poor away.
Gandhi’s class, it seems, has more stakeholders than Modi’s.