In which the Congress starts thinking Cash Transfers could be its salvation in 2014

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About ten days ago, a very interesting public meeting took place in a village called Dudu. Senior Congress leaders, including party chairperson Sonia Gandhi, PM Manmohan Singh, FM P Chidambaram along with five other cabinet ministers, not to mention Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, flew down to this Rajasthani village to tell a 30,000-strong audience about cash transfers and Aadhaar. In this story, I say that, if Dudu is anything to go by, the Congress is starting to see Cash Transfers as a possible magic bullet for the 2014 elections.

It was an event by the governments of India and Rajasthan. Yet, everything about the meeting – people, flags, hoardings, public mobilisation – at Dudu village in Rajasthan on October 20 showed it was of the Congress, by the Congress, for the Congress. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi, finance minister P Chidambaram, five other cabinet ministers and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot helicoptered down to this village on the Jaipur-Alwar highway to tell a 30,000-strong audience about cash transfers and Aadhaar. They delivered a flurry of speeches on the advantages of welfare and subsidy benefits flowing directly into people’s bank accounts.

I wrote this story a week after returning from Dudu. The story is mainly a cautionary one. For reasons I explain in the story, cash transfers can all too easily be a double-edged sword for the Congress. And, one of the reasons it might yet blow up in the Congress’ face is an emerging battle over payment architectures between the UIDAI and the Department of Financial Services. More on that in this accompanying story.