Upbeat over food, land bills, Congress eyes electoral gains

New Delhi, Aug 31 (IANS) The mood in the Congress camp is upbeat. The party, which had appeared isolated as an aggressive opposition did not allow the Lok Sabha to run for the past three weeks, bounced back with full force and managed to get two key pro-poor bills, related to food security and land takeover, passed in the house.

The spirit of the two bills reflects the political philosophy of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi.

While the food bill aims to give the right to food to around 67 percent of India's 1.2 billion people numbering around 800 million, the land bill gives

landowners or their dependents fair compensation and transparency in land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation and replaces an archaic law enacted 120 years ago during the British rule.

Explaining the significance of the two bills to the voters is the next big challenge for the Congress and its top leadership.

" We will have to take the bills to the people. There is no other way. The party and the government will have to do that," a former cabinet minister told IANS, not wishing to be named.

According to him, while the benefits of the land bill will be felt by the people once it becomes operative after being notified, the benefits of the right to food law will come only when the scheme rolls out on the ground.

"Till people start getting subsidised grains they will not realise the benefits. It may take a few months," another minister told IANS.

In terms of political significance, the two pro-poor and pro-reform bills are expected to give a huge leeway to the ruling Congress ahead of the assembly polls in five states this year end and the 2014 national elections.

"It is a big achievement that the food security and land acquisition bills were passed in the Lok Sabha this week," said a Congress strategist who too did not wish to be identified as only party spokespersons were authorised to speak to the media.

But the situation was not so a week ago when the desperation of the Congress leaders showed.

Despite much hype, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's pet welfare legislation, the food security bill, could not be passed in the house on Aug 20 which also happens to be the birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The suddenness with which the BJP raised the case of missing files related to coal block allocations and demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh give a clarification in the house, stunned the Congress floor managers who had thought they would be able to take up the food bill.

Sensing an opportunity to corner the government, even the Left parties and the Janata Dal-United supported the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj in seeking the prime minister's statement on the issue of the missing coal files, trapping the Congress in the politics over the food bill.

"There was poor floor management in the past weeks," accepted a Congress MP.

The two bills are now slated to be debated in the Rajya Sabha next week and Congress managers are confident they will sail through given that most parties support them but may bring some amendments in the upper house.

And while the Congress can ask its chief ministers to start implementing the food bill at the earliest, it can only hope that the non-Congress ruled states will follow suit keeping in mind the poll season.

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