The Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday said that it had had done away with corrupt practices related to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act while the Congress had “freely looted” people during its regime, The Indian Express reported. The party’s rebuttal came after Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s criticism that the saffron party had earlier “denigrated” the scheme, but eventually came to rely on it.
In an opinion piece published in the newspaper, Gandhi said the Narendra Modi-led government had tried its best to “throttle the MGNREGA” and undermine its importance in the last six years. She added that the employment scheme was a shining example of radical and rational systemic change. The Congress chief also claimed that the Centre had been disguising her party’s initiatives and passing it on as its own reforms, but it has “grudgingly come around” to the significance of the flagship rural relief programme.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the distress it has unleashed has brought the Modi government full circle,” she wrote. “Faced with unprecedented hardship and an economy already in slowdown, the government was obliged to fall back on the UPA’s [United Progressive Alliance] flagship rural relief programme.”
BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain responded to Gandhi’s criticism and said that the scheme became a success only after his party eliminated the corrupt practices done through it. “On the floor of Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that his government would make use of the MNREGA scheme after all corrupt tactics for its implementation were removed,” he told The Indian Express. “There was a freedom to loot people during the Congress regime. It is us [the BJP] who are using the scheme efficiently for the benefit of the country.”
Gandhi highlighted in her opinion piece that the MGNREGA had proven to be even more significant amid the coronavirus lockdown, when workers deprived of employment were returning from cities to their villages. She added that the migrant workers were facing a “humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale”.
The Congress has repeatedly criticised the Centre for failing to address the problems of suffering migrant workers and said that the government’s economic packages were insufficient. Last month, the party had called a meeting of several Opposition parties to discuss the Centre’s measures to deal with the fallout of the coronavirus crisis.
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Lakhs of migrant workers in India were left jobless by the lockdown imposed on March 25. Many were forced to make exhausting and dangerous trips back to their hometowns as public transport was suspended. Numerous migrant workers have been killed in accidents on roads or train tracks. Many others died from the exhaustion of walking in the scorching heat. Nearly 80 migrant workers died of starvation or heat sickness between May 9 and May 27 while travelling on special trains provided by the government.