It comes with no surprise that the interim President of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi share a frigid equation, so much so that even small courtesies are rarely exchanged between the two.
However, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed this, at least for the time being, now the two are communicating at regular intervals.
Following up on the call made by PM Modi to her, Sonia Gandhi has now written a 5 point suggestion letter to him.
Let us take a look at the 5 suggestions:
- Sonia Gandhi is suggesting a 2 year ban on the media advertisements in print, online and even Televisions by the government and the Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) with only exceptions being the advisories for the COVID-19 or any other Public Health issue.
- While she welcomed and conveyed “support for the decision taken by the Union Cabinet to reduce salaries for MPs by 30%” she suggests that the government of India should reduce expenditure budget by 30% excluding Pensions, Salaries, and the Central Sector Schemes. This 30% would come out to be Rs. 2.5 lakh crore in a year.
- Sonia Gandhi also suggests that all the foreign visit even that of the President, Chief Ministers, Union Ministers and the Prime Minister along with Bureaucrats and other State Ministers should be put on hold with immediate effect. However, she added that exception can be made by the PM on case-to-case basis.
- She also suggests that the government should immediately suspend all the Rs 20,000 crore ‘Central Vista’ beautification and construction projects. Saying “At a time like this, such an outlay seems self-indulgent to say the least. This sum could instead be allocated towards constructing new hospital infrastructure and diagnosis along with equipping our frontline workers with PPEs and better facilities,”.
- She said that the funds in the “PM Cares” should be transferred to the “Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund” (PMNRF), saying that not only will this ensure accountability, efficiency, audit and transparency in the manner in which these funds are allocated to be spent. She said that it does not make sense to create two separate silos for the distribution of funds.
The last point, especially, can cause a turmoil in Indian politics, as, from the inception of PM Cares, the Congress party has questioned the need of it since PM’s National Relief Fund has been in existence since 1948 when it was set up by Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Congress party, especially MP Shashi Tharoor has voiced against the need of PM Cares Fund. However, the government said that PM Cares is specific and dedicated to COVID-19 and other similar crisis which may arise in the future.
The saffron party also pointed out that the PM NRF had the Congress president on board and this is the reason why the Congress party is opposing the new fund.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said that at times like this urgent and immediate steps and funds allocation was needed without a bottleneck, however, this argument was rejected by the Congress Party saying there is a conspiracy to keep the opposition out.
The cabinet’s decision to suspend the MPLAD (Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) only worked as wind to the fire and added to the anger of the opposition as it felt that this is an attempt by the government to make the MPs of the opposition redundant.
The government, on the other hand, has dismissed the allegations saying that the PM Cares Fund would remove the delays and make sure that people contribute, which they did. However, the last couple of lines in Sonia Gandhi’s letter had added to the list of allegations by the opposition on the intent of the government.
The letter said, “Every single Indian has made great personal sacrifices to fight this disease. They have complied with every suggestion, instruction and decision taken by your office and the Central Government. It is time that the Legislature and the Executive reciprocate this trust and good faith”. Even at this time of crisis, it is visible that trust between political opponents can never become a reality.