LDF did nothing when economic shocks hit people hard, NYAY is a cure for Kerala: Rahul Gandhi

Kochi: Rahul Gandhi, the star campaigner of the Congress party, endorsed his pet project Minimum Income Guarantee Scheme as a way out to revive the Kerala economy. In an exclusive interview to Manorama News, Rahul Gandhi said the Congress party can nurse the state's economy back to health by implementing the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) if it returns to power after the April 6 assembly polls.  

The former Congress president and Member of Parliament from Wayanad criticised the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala for not helping its people financially even as the state economy was hit by three economic shocks – demonetisation, structurally flawed GST and the COVID-19 pandemic – in the recent years. 

Reiterating his earlier comments that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been driving a car without fuel, Rahul said both the central and state governments have failed to put money in the hands of the people and thereby help to revive the economy. 

He also exuded confidence that the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) will come back to power this time.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

You have been travelling across the state campaigning for the UDF. Tell us about the chances of the Congress and the UDF.

We are confident that we are going to win the election. I think, we will do better than what people actually think.

Rahul Gandhi at Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad. Photo: MT Vidhuraj

The elections in all the five states are crucial for opposition parties this time. How important is the election for the Congress, particularly in Kerala?

All elections are important. I think, this election is very important for the future of Kerala. Kerala is going to decide whether it wants an inclusive, harmonious and non-violent ideology or if it wants a divisive ideology. At the national level also, it is an important election as, I think, the way Kerala thinks is taken quite seriously by the rest of the country.

Rahul Gandhi at Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad. Photo: MT Vidhuraj

The Congress' candidate list points towards a generational change. The list names several young leaders and women. Leaders in Kerala had said that you were very particular about candidates during the discussions. Are you satisfied with the number of women in the candidate list?

No, I'm not satisfied with the number of women at all! I'm satisfied with the number of young people. I would have liked to see more women. We have to work on that. But, once we are back in power, there are areas where we can involve more women and we intend to do that. Kerala has a tradition of giving respect and providing space to women. 

When the (Congress) leaders from Kerala came there (New Delhi) and met me, I had said, looking at the current situation of the country, the economic condition, and unemployment, that we have to think big. We should present ourselves as ones heralding a new imagination for Kerala.

Kerala polls: Political fronts sharpen their weapons as campaign reaches crucial stage
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during an election campaign for Kerala assembly polls, at Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad district. PTI

There are a number of components to that. There is this concept of NYAY and many other ideas embedded in the manifesto. We wanted to make sure that the manifesto is a manifesto of Kerala, which the people of Kerala came up with. The manifesto came out of a conversation. A lot of ideas in the manifesto that I'm speaking about are actually Kerala's ideas that have been generated from different stakeholders. 

I also said that we're going to do something new for Kerala. We also have to give space to the younger generation. Kerala is a young state. We have to give more room to them. Frankly, I must commend the senior leaders of the Congress party as they went beyond my expectations (in terms of picking the cadidates). I think that is one thing we must appreciate. It's all about having the right balance between experience and youth. I'm happy with the balance. However, I would have liked to see more women.

Don't underestimate the decision to give 55% seats to the youngsters. It is not a small job. And that shows the commitment we have for a new imagination. We are saying that the government will be comprised of 55% youth and 45% experienced people. And, this new imagination we are talking about will be delivered by these people.

You said in one of your speeches that Pinarayi Vijayan has been driving a car without fuel. What made you say so?

The world we are living in has been hit by a massive economic shock. India was hit by two economic shocks even before the COVID shock - the demonetisation and the structurally flawed GST. Both ideas were imposed on India. India is now being forced into adopting the new farm laws. Farmers across the country are agitating. One needs to start the economy. I would have been very happy if the national government had put large amounts of money into people's hands and started the economy from the consumption side. You need to fire the consumption side in order to revive the economy. You need to put money into people's hand and make the money work to fire the economy. The central government just let India down on this part. Then, I expected that the Left government would do something about it. But they too have let down Kerala. So the Kerala economy is like a car without fuel. Fuel is the money in people's hands. If you look at our (CongressUDF) manifesto, it accepts that Kerala is in an emergency situation both economically and from the employment perspective. It needs quick and aggressive action to bring it out of the emergency. That's what the NYAY is about.

NYAY is one of the flagship programmes suggested by you.

One of the things I'm saying publicly is everybody in Kerala accepts that unemployment and the state of economy are fundamental questions. And, it surprises me that the Left front doesn't have a solution. I would have liked to see the Left front's solution to the two problems.

Rahul Gandhi during a road show at Mananthavady, Wayanad, along with P K Jayalakshmi, UDF candidate there, and AICC secretary KC Venugopal. Photo: Jithin Joel Haarim

There are many doubts about the implementation of the NYAY scheme. Can you explain?

It is a massive, game-changing project. We have done this before. In Chhattisgarh, we made certain commitments to farmers and we have completed every single one of those commitments. We delivered. The MGNREGA is a smaller element of NYAY. NYAY is the bigger idea. We are fully committed to it. Frankly, we don't think Kerala can come out of this problem without such a mission. I have said in my speeches that the people of Kerala shouldn't think about this as a charity or gift. We are proceeding with NYAY because we understand that the inequality in India has gone beyond all reason. And without implementing NYAY we are not starting the economy. 

What the Left says is that they are the one who leads the fight against BJP and Sangh Parivar in India.

Why does Narendra Modi keep saying Congress-mukt bharat? Why I have never heard Left-mukt Bharat or Kerala? I never heard him saying that. All he does is he says Congress-mukt bharat. So here you can see who the BJP thinks they are fighting. 

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi's adrresses V T Balram's election rally in Koottanad in Thrithala. Photo TA Ameerudheen

Amit Shah has said he will implement the CAA {Citizenship (Amendment) Act} after the elections. But Pinarayi Vijayan has categorically said it will not be implemented in Kerala. What is your assurance?

We are not going to implement it. We think it's an unfair and divisive law. We feel that Kerala is one of the most harmonious places in the country, secular and here all communities respect each other. We are not going to allow any kind of division.

You travelled with fishermen to the deep sea and you even jumped to sea. It was stunning. But actually, what is your vision for the fishermen?

I swim. I don't have any problem jumping into the sea. But, well, the NYAY is a part of the vision. The idea is to create a floor underneath the people so that nobody falls. Much like MGNREGA helps people in the rural economy, NYAY will do it across India. That's one aspect. One other thing I have been saying is to have a dedicated ministry of fisheries to address the issues faced by the fisherfolk. Not just to have a department under a ministry. I'm trying to create a balance between the different elements of society. We are not going to tell them we are with you and then go to an American company and stab the fisherfolk in the back.

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