Poverty, unemployment once again to dominate 2019 Lok Sabha election as agenda

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Indian National Congress President Rahul Gandhi

Congress President Rahul Gandhi made a major bid to woo the poor ahead of the Lok Sabha elections by promising a minimum income guarantee for every poor person if the Congress is voted to power. Gandhi accepted that it is impossible to build a new India while millions of citizens suffer the scourge of poverty. If voted to power in 2019, the Congress is committed to a minimum income guarantee for every poor person, to help eradicate poverty and hunger, as the Party vision and promise; he was addressing the Farmer Rally on January 28, 2019 in Raipur.

It may be recalled that Garibi Hatao (Remove poverty) was the theme and slogan of Indira Gandhi’s 1971 election campaign and later also used by her son Rajiv Gandhi. The slogan and the proposed anti-poverty programs that came with it were designed to give Gandhi an independent national support, based on rural and urban poor. Now, the third generation of Gandhi under the leadership of Rahul has once again sought the mandate with similar slogan. Garibi Hatao programme was rephrased into the Twenty – Point Programme, initially launched by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975 and was subsequently restructured in 1982 and again on 1986. With the introduction of new policies and programmes, it has been finally restructured in 2006.

At present, the Indian policymakers conducted two important studies testing the impact of Rahul Gandhi’s promise of Universal Basic Income (UBI) through unconditional cash transfers in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi between 2011 and 2012. The experiment gave 100 randomly-selected households 1,000 rupees per month. The money was deposited under the name of the female head of participating households in a bank.

The idea got prominence after Arvind Subramanian, as the then Chief Economic Adviser, pushed it in a big way in the pre-budget Economic Survey of 2017 which included a 40-page chapter on UBI that outlined the three components of the proposed program—universality, unconditionality and agency.

Incidentally, on January 28, 2019, Subramanian released a report co-authored by him which proposed a quasi-universal basic rural income (QUBRI) of Rs 18,000 per year to each rural household, except those which are “demonstrably well-off”, at an estimated cost of Rs. 2.64 lakh crore to tackle agrarian distress.

The Garibi Hatao programme, in the late sixties, made us realize that the economic policies and power structures had only brought about limited growth. Then during 2014 Lok Sabha Election, taking full advantages of Media Management, the Chief campaigner of BJP- Narendra Damodardas Modi, also sought the mandate by assuring employment to the youths, via the Skilled Development programmes, which has also witnessed the limited or insignificant growth.

Gandhi may claim that no government in the world had ever attempted to assure Universal Basic Income, which is also similar to the Garibi Hatao programme which has culminated in the Emergency and at present the situation of India is still the same. As pointed out by Rahul, it is impossible to build a new India while millions of citizens suffer the scourge of poverty.

It is also similar to the slogan by Modi in 2014 general election to provide job, whereas, the figures of unemployment is now almost double in 2019. Worst so, many professionals like the designer, artists and artisans, performers and resources persons for the Central government departments have all come under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and have either shut their one room offices or have stopped providing services as they could not registered for GST number as their incomes are not consistent because it is purely on contractual basis. This has further increased the total unemployment figures of the national index.

It is strange how the political parties keep using poverty and unemployment as vote banks agenda, while the electorates keep buying the story and electing the same candidates and the party to power even for failure to fulfil the manifestoes. It is time to sensitize the voters to vote for change so that the nation can progress and not be misled by the politicians for assuring to eradicate poverty and unemployment without spelling out the blue-print on how they will execute the same if voted to power.