Congress President Rahul Gandhi announced Tuesday that he would ensure minimum income guarantee for the poor across India if his party is voted to power in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Gandhi’s promise comes at a time when the Modi government is reportedly considering cash transfers.
ThePrint asks: Is Rahul Gandhi’s pledge a smart political pre-empt of Modi govt or is it a season of bad economic ideas?
Rahul Gandhi enjoys being Santa Claus rather than help the poor stand on their feet
National spokesperson, BJP
Rahul Gandhi’s promise is nothing but pre-poll sloganeering. It is yet another promise that hasn’t been seriously thought through by the Congress party. In 1971, their slogan of choice was “Gareebi Hatao” – but they did nothing for the poor.
Rahul Gandhi knows his party is not coming to power in 2019. Other leaders don’t want anything to do with the congress – be it Mayawati’s BSP or Akhilesh Yadav’s SP in Uttar Pradesh, or Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. The Congress stands completely isolated. Hence, a sulking Congress is taking shelter under populism and sloganeering.
This is why Rahul Gandhi is making arbitrary promises at the drop of a hat. Tomorrow, he may even promise a free Mercedes to the citizens of the country, because he doesn’t need to worry about delivering on those promises.
Nothing about his scheme is novel. The idea has been discussed in Europe for years. The reason why Rahul Gandhi rushed to announce it is because the Congress party is aware that the BJP has already implemented several strong pro-poor schemes and several others are in the pipeline.
The BJP is a party for the poor. He knew we might just announce more pro-poor plans in the budget, so he wanted to pre-empt it.
Our budget will focus on two things: reducing extreme poverty and boosting economic growth. Unlike Rahul Gandhi, we believe in empowering the poor. He was born a princeling, so he believes in treating the poor in a patronising manner. He enjoys being the Santa Claus, rather than helping the poor stand on their own feet. The BJP is a party of the poor and therefore we think in terms of empowering them and boosting their self-esteem and dignity.
For the BJP, it is Mission 2019, for Congress, it is Vision 2019
Minimum income guarantee means maximum prosperity. The time has come for a surgical strike on poverty.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi is batting on the front foot, with courage and gumption.
He has laid out his vision for a new India. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, an India that shall entail ‘swaraj for the hungry and starving millions’.
India saw a 50 per cent reduction in absolute poverty during the UPA years (Oxford 2018 Report). During the same period, 140 million people were lifted out of poverty.
For those questioning the idea, similar concerns were raised when MGNREGA was introduced in 2005. When there is a political will there is always a way. The Congress will balance this while being fiscally responsible – as we have done in the past. Good economics and responsible politics can go hand in hand.
An income guarantee will address:
Improved agency for the poor
Insurance against shocks
While today is not the day to squabble, I do wish to ask a question to Modi government: If you say this is a populist measure, will you not also copy it in your Budget?
For the BJP it is Mission 2019, for us, it is Vision 2019.
The poor have the first claim on India’s resources. And that is non-negotiable and beyond debate.
A better option is to monetise surplus public asset and address poverty
Political and tech entrepreneur
If a nation has just two inhabitants – Ajay and Vijay; and Ajay’s income is Rs 1.5 lakh, Vijay’s is Rs 50,000. If, under Minimum Income Guarantee (a new variation of the tax-and-spend schemes), the base income level is set at Rs 1 lakh. Thus, Rs 50,000 from Ajay will be transferred to Vijay. Both will now be at the Rs 1 lakh level.
No new wealth is created – it is simply redistributed. Over time, Ajay will either leave India or decide it is better to be Vijay – pushing the country on a downward slope of declining productivity and income.
A better way is to monetise Rs 1 lakh of idle government assets. From this, Rs 50,000 is returned to both Ajay and Vijay since both have an equal share in the nation’s wealth. Ajay’s income goes up to Rs 2 lakh, Vijay’s to Rs 1 lakh. Vijay is at the same level as under MIG, but Ajay’s income is Rs 1 lakh more than under MIG. The income of the nation is now Rs 1 lakh higher and Ajay is not penalised for a higher income.
The second idea is what I call Dhan Vapasi (Public Wealth Return). India has sufficient wealth but people are poor. This is the right way to address the poverty problem and increase incomes.
The government controls over Rs 1500 lakh crore of surplus assets like public lands, public sector companies and minerals — about Rs 50 lakh per household. This can be returned as universal basic income of Rs 2,000 per person per month.
Job-creating economic reforms left by wayside as BJP, Congress embrace populist measures
Research Associate, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC
The announcement by the Congress in favour of a minimum income support is the latest indication that both major political parties in India have made populist measures to offer subsidies and handouts to voters a central plank of their economic policy.
Following the Congress’ victory in state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the party made farm loan waivers in the states a priority, with party president Rahul Gandhi announcing the success in waiving loans in two days. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) responded by announcing loan waivers for farmers in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and promising similar waivers in Odisha should it come to power in the state.
With this latest announcement, it is clear that priorities of both the parties in the upcoming elections will be towards expanding welfare programmes when it should be prioritising reforms and polices that can unlock job growth and accelerate economic development. Both parties should recognise that necessary and long-pending reforms such as land and labour reform or establishing thoughtful regulatory regimes in key sectors will not only bring inclusive growth and create jobs, but reduce the demand for welfare in the long-run.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her on twitter @khanthefatima.