New Delhi: Congress President Rahul Gandhi Thursday said the party’s promised minimum income scheme for the poor will remonetise the economy ‘damaged’ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation, asserting the anti-poverty poll pledge has thrown the BJP in ‘total disarray’.
Gandhi also said the ‘angel tax’ for startups will be scrapped if Congress comes to power, calling it ‘draconian’.
In an exclusive interview to PTI ahead of the 17th Lok Sabha elections beginning April 11, Gandhi said ‘Nyay’ — the world’s “biggest scheme” for poor — will trigger a powerful economic cycle of consumption and production in the country that would fire up the economy.
He stressed that the scheme will not be implemented “rashly like the demonetization and GST of the BJP”.
Gandhi’s big-bang promise of giving Rs 72,000 annually to each of the 5 crore poor families of the country on Monday came against the backdrop of criticism of the Modi government on joblessness, farm distress and slowdown in rural economy.
The scheme is being seen as a bid by the main opposition party to change the poll narrative to real issues as against attempts by the ruling BJP to whip up nationalist sentiments.
Touching upon a wide range of issues relating to the economy, Gandhi, 48, said Congress will abolish the existing ‘angel tax’ imposed on start-ups, ensure that new ventures do not require any regulatory permissions for three years and get easy access to bank credit.
Angel tax is levied on investment in start-ups.
“We’ve said that we will remove the draconian and ill-conceived angel tax. I’ve made that commitment and it’s going to be done,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi said promoting domestic industry will be a key priority for the Congress and it will ensure that all new businesses are freed from the clutches of red tape to give a boost to the economy.
On ‘Nyay’, he said it has twin objectives of giving money to the 20 per cent poorest families in India and remonetising the economy “damaged” by demonetisation.
“What the PM has done over the past five years is to remove all money from the economy with failed policies like demonetisation and a poorly executed Gabbar Singh Tax (GST). Informal sectors have been badly hit.
“The aim of the ‘Nyay’ scheme is two-fold. First is to guarantee a minimum income to the bottom 20 per cent families. The second is to remonetise the economy that has been demonetised by Modiji,” Gandhi said.
The Congress chief said the scheme was going to dramatically increase economic growth by putting money in the hands of the poorest of the poor, and rejected apprehensions that it will put increase fiscal deficit.
To a question on the scheme being prima facie populist, Gandhi said “it is not a populist measure as projected by some critics”.
“If giving out Rs 3.5 lakh crore to 15 people by Narendra Modi is not considered populist, why should this be as it is aimed at benefitting the poor,” he said.
“Is it only the crony capitalist friends of Mr Modi who are to benefit from government schemes? I’m only asking for fairness, for justice, or ‘nyay’ for India’s poor. There’s nothing populist about that,” he countered.
“The ground breaking NYAY scheme has thrown the BJP in disarray.”
Gandhi said the Congress was “committed to a government that is fiscally prudent and economically astute” and has come out with Nyay after doing detailed math on it.
Asked whether Congress’ coalition partners would agree to the scheme, Gandhi said he had not heard any negative comments on the plan from any of the alliance partners and instead most of the opposition parties supported it as a transformational idea.
The Congress chief said there is a reason why the party christened the scheme ‘Nyay’, which translates to justice in Hindi.
“There is another aspect to calling the scheme ‘Nyay’. Why have we chosen to call this scheme ‘Justice’? Because over the last five years, Mr Narendra Modi has simply snatched from poor and given nothing back.
“He has taken away from the farmers, he has snatched from the small and medium businesses, he’s taken away from the unemployed youth, he has extinguished the savings of mothers and sisters of this country. We want to return to India’s deprived sections what Modiji has snatched from them,” Gandhi said.
Terming ‘Nyay’ (Nyuntam Aay Yojana) a “game changer” and a “final assault” on poverty, Gandhi said the scheme is “fiscally perfectly doable”.
Asked about apprehensions of some economists that ‘Nyay’, which entails an expenditure of Rs 3.6 lakh crore annually, could aggravate India’s fiscal deficit position, Gandhi said, “No, that’s not right.”
He said the party consulted a large number of economists and experts, studied numerous papers and other research material on this subject and run an extensive financial modelling exercise before deciding to include the plan in its Lok Sabha manifesto.
Taking a swipe at Modi, who announced the demonetisation of high value currency notes in a surprise move in November 2016, Gandhi said, “We’re not rash. We don’t take steps like demonetisation and GST without consultations, without conferring with the experts. We have vetted this, tested this, and fiscally ‘Nyay’ as a scheme is completely doable.”
The Congress president said ‘Nyay’ will first be tested through a pilot project to “smoothen out any flaws”.
“We’re not going to do it the way GST was done. We are first going to run a short pilot project to smoothen out any flaws in the implementation process and then roll it out nationwide. We’re also going to set down a robust way of identifying the beneficiaries, so that no deserving family is left out,” he said.
Asked if the pilot will be run in Congress-ruled states, Gandhi said experts will decide on that.
“This is for the experts to decide. In the 10 years of the Congress-UPA government, we took 14 crore people out of poverty net. Our goal now is to finish the job,” he said.
Gandhi added that 20 to 22 per cent families are living in poverty even today. Many of them have been pushed into this cycle by the prime minister’s demonetisation scheme and ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ (GST), he noted.
On BJP’s criticism that the Congress has been using the ‘Garibi Hatao slogan’ for decades, the Congress chief said 70 per cent of India’s population was “poor” and successive Congress governments had worked to change this paradigm.
“Removal of poverty is a huge project and has taken decades of sustained work. Since Independence, Congress party has been at the forefront of anti- poverty measures,” he said.
“If Mr Modi had actually done his job properly, this process would have been finished by now. Unfortunately, his policies have aggravated the situation by badly damaging the economy,” he said.