The propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals.
- Adam Smith
If Narendra Modi is banking on his IAF strikes to retain power at the Centre, the Congress president Rahul Gandhi, promises what he calls surgical strike on poverty to replace BJP from the corridors of power. Much of what the Modi government promised is yet to see the light of the day, though he has surprises up his sleeves to seize attention of the voters. As the war to grab votes gets more intense with election dates nearing, the manifesto of the Congress has become the cynosure of all political gossip. Can Rahul Gandhi do what he promises? The educated voters seem to be weary of promises of the Modi government, many of which are in abeyance. With his ‘NYAY’ scheme, the Congress president has raised his party’s possibilities of making a comeback. Gandhi’s announcement of a minimum income support plan for the poorest segment of the people of the country has emerged as the biggest and most ambitious election promise made till date. Unlike the past slogans of general intent like ‘garibi hatao’ and ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’, the Nyunatam Aay Yojna (NYAY) is not an impossibility, it is more specific, although it still lacks many details.
The proposal is to make a direct payment of Rs 72,000 crore annually to 50 million families to bring their monthly income up to Rs 12,000. The 250 million individual beneficiaries would belong to the poorest 20% of households in the country. Experts are of the opinion that though the scheme lacks details, it has the potential to change the narrative of the election campaign to the most basic issues faced by the country. The BJP with the Prime Minister Modi at the lead have tried to whip up nationalist sentiment through emotive use of the IAF strike on Balakot and to take electoral advantage of issues such as Ram temple and the Sabarimala ahead of the elections. The Congress plan will hopefully bring the focus back to the real issues facing the people, especially the rural distress. The Congress has already promised a universal healthcare scheme and 33% reservation for women in government jobs. Elections should be fought on issues like livelihood, just and equitable development, jobs, equal opportunities and inclusive social policies, not on divisive and polarising issues and invented themes.
The Congress is yet to make public the details of the plan. It is estimated that it will involve an annual expenditure of Rs 3.6 lakh crore. Questions have been raised whether the existing subsidies and welfare schemes will be retained or discontinued. Other issues to be considered are how the beneficiaries are to be identified, with different standards existing to fix the poverty line, and how the scheme will impact the social situation. These need to be made clear in the coming days. But it is beyond doubt that the direct income support plan is a welcome idea and has wide support among economists. The Congress scheme has also been vetted by experts. Former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian had proposed such a scheme in the Economic Survey for 2016-17. The Narendra Modi government is actually implementing a smaller and limited version of it now. So, the BJP’s dismissal of the proposal as ‘bluff’ is disingenuous. Basic income support is an idea that is being tried out by many countries. All parties should seriously debate the issues surrounding the idea.