As the first set of relaxations in lockdown restrictions kick in Tuesday, the Congress on Saturday set up a high-powered consultative group headed by former prime minister Manmohan Singh to formulate a calibrated and nuanced response to the socio-economic impact of the shutdown and gradual reopening of the economy.
Ever since the country was placed under lockdown, the Congress had been oscillating between a critical and conciliatory approach. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, for instance, had been acerbic in his criticism initially.
Last week, he toned down his attack and offered what he called constructive suggestions to the Government, arguing that it was not the time to fight. Rahul is a member of the panel.
The 11-member committee set up by Congress president Sonia Gandhi will focus on the economic and social impact of the lockdown and its aftermath, party leaders said.
The committee has as its members former finance minister P Chidambaram, former rural development minister Jairam Ramesh and the party’s technology and data cell chairman, and political economist Praveen Chakravarty.
Former union minister and Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari, too, is a member, and so are AICC general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal, communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala, social media head Rohan Gupta, and spokespersons Gaurav Vallabh and Supriya Shrinate. Interestingly, none of the party’s four chief ministers are members of the panel.
“The consultative group will meet virtually, normally every day, to deliberate on matters of current concern and formulate views of the party on various issues,” a party statement said.
‘Injustice to retailers’
The Congress on Saturday also said the government is doing injustice to retail traders during the lockdown by allowing only e-commerce companies to sell non-essential items.
Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken demanded a level-playing field for retailers and asked the Home Ministry to issue guidelines for online sales. “While their shops are locked down for the last one month, their main competitors are open and have been allowed to sell non-essential items online. This is injustice to retailers and the government should not allow this,” he said.
Maken said traders have locked down their shops for the past one month and before that, suffered due to demonetisation, e-commerce competition and the GST, which have broken their backbone.
“This (April 15) order does not stop e-commerce companies from trading non-essential items. We demand from the government that the Home Ministry clarifies if the e-commerce companies have been allowed to trade non-essential items. Government should take steps so that a level-playing field is provided for these locked-down small-shop owners,” he said.
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