The emphasis placed by the NDA government on the rural and farm segments in the 2016-17 General Budget has prompted a change in the Congress party’s strategy.
The main Opposition party now sees an opportunity to win back the support of the middle and the working classes. Over the years, these segments of the population had become disillusioned with the Congress and begun gravitating towards other parties – something that manifested itself clearly during the 2014 parliamentary elections.
Listing out the ways in which finance minister Arun Jaitley’s budget would further burden the middle and the working classes, party chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said: “There is no relief in tax slabs for the common man. Taxation of EPF and PPF on maturity will disincentivise savings, drawing from the hard-earned money of ordinary employees and workers.”
Congress president Sonia Gandhi acknowledged on many occasions that the party’s support base has eroded over the years, and its policies were not in tune with the aspirations of the middle class. The party’s disconnect with the middle class was considered as one of the main reasons for its drubbing in the previous Lok Sabha polls.
“The inequality between the rich and the poor is widening. The Union budget has imposed additional indirect taxes of Rs 20,670 crore (on the people). Indirect taxation is always regressive, hurting the poor and the middle class the most,” Surjewala said.
The Congress does not see any immediate impact of the budgetary announcements on the upcoming assembly elections in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry. Terming Jaitley’s offering as “political”, its leaders were quick to allege that the BJP had the 2017 Uttar Pradesh polls in mind while making the financial document.
The NDA faced intense criticism for “ignoring” farmers and rural India during its first two years in power, and Budget 2016 was an apparent attempt at resolving that.
Attacking from another front, the Congress also downplayed the pro-farmer measures taken by the government. “The crucial point in agriculture is the price. Last year, India’s farmers were cheated. In many cases, there was a very poor increase in the minimum support price. In some cases, there was zero increase,” said former finance minister P Chidambaram.
The Congress also seeks to nail the government on the issue of black money. Since the 2014 elections, it has been consistently reminding the BJP of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poll promise of “depositing” Rs 15-20 lakh – sourced from Rs 80 lakh crore in black money brought back from foreign countries – in the bank account of every Indian.
“The Union budget protects black money generators and holders, incentivising tax evaders. Last year’s budget introduced an amnesty scheme for depositing black money stashed overseas, but this led to the disclosure of a mere Rs 3,370 crore by just 638 individuals. This comes up to approximately Rs 30 for every Indian, instead of the Rs 15-20 lakh that Modiji promised,” Surjewala said.