Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, in a press conference, urged the government to ensure financial packages for MSMEs, money for poorest Indians, protection for migrants and plans for lockdown exit. He refused to criticise the government for the imposition of lockdown and called for urgent financial stimulus. “We need to move forward from the situation. I will not criticise the decision to impose lockdown. We need to give money to poor now, MSMEs now. If job losses happen, it will be a tsunami. Lay out strategy and the criteria. The Congress will assist.”
Experts have said that peak will come in June and July. Infections are rising. What is the Congress opinion on what should be done? According to Gandhi, “The central thing to do is now to give transparency on actions. We need to understand when we will open and what is the criteria for opening. What check boxes will be ticked? We simply cannot be continue without providing support to those who suffer from the lockdown. The opening of the lockdown is not an on and off switch. It is a transition, needs a strategy. It requires a psychological change.”
“The disease is dangerous for old people, and those with diseases like diabetes and hypertension. For other, it is not a dangerous disease. We need a psychological change in the minds of the public,” he said.
He said that decentralisation was the need of the hour. “A massive transition is in front of us, with cooperation needed across the board from Centre and states. View states as partners, and don’t centralise functions.”
He urged the government to implement NYAY, his pre-poll direct cash transfer scheme. “Take the idea of NYAY and start putting money into 50 per cent of India’s poorest households. The pain has to be reduced. We have to start thinking systemically, and understand that there is a link between MSMEs and big businesses. To start the engine, we have to start fully. We need to create demand immediately. We are losing time. And more time we lose, the more our economy will suffer.”
On need for decentralisation, he said that the Red Zones, Orange Zones and Green Zones decided by the Centre should actually be decided by the states and local bodies.
Amid the pandemic, Rahul Gandhi has been holding open conversations with eminent economists and healthcare professional. A lockdown exit strategy, increased federalism and financial assistance to the states were all issues that Rahul had raised during those conversations.
Talking to Nobel Prize laureate economist Abhijit Banerjee, Rahul stressed on the need for safety nets for the poor like the NREGA, Right to Food, and his pre-poll proposal for a direct cash transfer for the poor aka NYAY. Rahul highlighted the need to prop us MSMEs which employ the poorest sections of the society and stressed on the need for decentralisation. “Decentralising as much as possible, which they can handle at the local level, is in my view a good thing. So the tendency should be to sort of parcel out things that can be managed at the district level and the state level. Of course, there are some things. The district collector cannot decide about airlines or railways and stuff. So I feel that the big decisions should be national. But, even in the lockdown front, leeway should be given to the states. If you want to lock down, you want to understand the nature of your lockdown, you please do your lockdown,” he said.
Before that, Rahul had held a conversation with former Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan. While Rajan called for a fiscal spending of Rs 65,000 crore to help the poor tide over the COVID-19 lockdown, and highlighted the need for at least 2 million tests, Rahul had said that India could not be compared to other countries in the world. The scale of the problem was different to begin with, and inequality in the Indian society made the situation completely different, he said. “The inequality and the nature of the inequality… Things like caste. The way Indian society is structured, it is different from American society. A lot of these problems are different in different states… One blanket solution for the whole of India cannot work,” he said.