Govt is 'bribing' voters, alleges Cong; dubs budget 'election manifesto'

Friday, 1 February 2019

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi also alleged the government has destroyed the lives of farmers over the past five years, and now by announcing "Rs 17 a day" for them in the budget, they have insulted them for everything they stand and work for.

NEW DELHI: Dubbing the budget by the Modi government as an "election manifesto", the Congress on Friday accused it of "bribing" voters ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in its "full-fledged budget" instead of an interim one.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi also alleged the government has destroyed the lives of farmers over the past five years, and now by announcing "Rs 17 a day" for them in the budget, they have insulted them for everything they stand and work for.

However, leaders of the BJP-led NDA lavished praise on the budget and expressed hope that its sops for the middle class, farmers and small industries will boost their electoral prospects. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it benefits every section of society and will boost growth.

While former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh dubbed the budget as an "election budget", Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge termed it as BJP's "election manifesto".

Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Kharge said: "This is all being done for elections. I directly charge them of paying bribe to voters."

Finance Minister Piyush Goyal, in the Interim Budget, announced that farmers will be provided Rs 6,000 per year in three installments under a central government scheme. This translates into Rs 16.44 daily.

Attacking the government over the announcement, Gandhi said on Twitter: "Dear NoMo, 5 years of your incompetence and arrogance has destroyed the lives of our farmers. Giving them Rs. 17 a day is an insult to everything they stand and work for." He used the hashtag 'AakhriJumlaBudget' with his tweet.

When asked by reporters about the budget being hailed as a "surgical strike" by a Union minister, Gandhi said "surgical strike" will happen on the Prime Minister and his government on issues such as Rafale, jobs and demonetisation.

Addressing a press conference, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, said Finance Minister Goyal tested patience by giving the "longest" budget speech in recent memory.

"My one line comment on the budget is that it was not a 'vote on account' but an 'account for votes'," the former finance minister said.

"It was not an interim budget. It was a full-fledged Budget accompanied by an election campaign speech. By doing so, the government has trampled on time-honoured conventions," he said.

Chidambaram also said a government confident of returning to power would have respected the conventions.

"It is crystal clear that the government has no hope of returning to power and has, therefore, acted desperately and recklessly, and in violation of the Constitution," he said.

The big takeaway is that the present government has further weakened fiscal stability, he alleged and asserted that for the second year in succession the government has missed the fiscal deficit target.

All the sops seem "last-gasp announcements" by a government whose term will effectively end in about 90 days, Chidambaram said.

Making a big populist push in its final budget before general elections, the Narendra Modi-government exempted people with an earning of up to Rs 5 lakh from payment of income tax and also provided a monthly pension of Rs 3,000 to workers in the unorganised sector, among other sops.

Chidambaram said the government's "desperation" is proved by its announcement of the farmers' income support scheme to provide a "measly sum of Rs 6,000" per year to every small and medium farmer.

"The fiscal deficit numbers are telling. By recklessly breaching fiscal discipline, the government will fund the scheme this year entirely out of borrowed money of Rs 20,000 crore. Next year too, the scheme will be funded entirely out of borrowed money of Rs 75,000 crore," the former finance minister said.

"While I welcome the support to farmers, I ask what about the non-farmer poor? What about the urban poor?" he said.

Chidambaram claimed that the Congress' announcement of a minimum income guarantee will bring true relief to all the poor households in the country.

The overall impression one got from listening to the budget speech was that the government believed its "own fake statistics", he said.

Chidambaram alleged that direct tax concessions were beyond the authority of the government as it will lay down office in 100 days.

"They seem to have been added at the last hour after the budget numbers were finalised. We will study them carefully in order to find out if they are in accord with the projections of revenue from income tax," he said.

The Congress leader also criticised the use of both English and Hindi by Goyal in his budget speech, saying that it seemed the government's "real intention" was to leave the people confused at least for a day.

"The mist that wraps this budget will lift by tomorrow and the people will see the desperation and recklessness of the government," he said.

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