Man of No Substance?
Actions speak louder than words. And Modi’s actions have all been anti-poor, landing a punch on their stomachs. The tax structure is such that diesel, which affects the poor person, sells costlier than aviation fuel. Demonetisation hit only the poor, the daily wagers, the small farmers, the artisans, the craftspeople, the sick and the vulnerable. GST is hitting the poor the most. GST on air travel is 5 per cent, for train it is 12 per cent. Expenditure on education and health care has been cut due to budget constraints, at the same time that Modi is building the bullet train.
Against this backdrop, it is apt to mention what Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said. He recently mounted a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, terming the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ that has hit hard the poor already nursing the wounds of demonetisation. “Ye jo inka GST hai, ye garib aadmi pe bojh hai… Ye GST nahi, ye Gabbar Singh Tax hai,” Gandhi asserted at a massive rally in Gujarat’s capital Gandhinagar.
He further said Modi imposed demonetisation last year on a personal whim, pushing lakhs of people into distress. And if this was not enough, he introduced the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in a tearing hurry. “The GST was brought by the Congress, but there was a ceiling of 18 per cent and did not have five slabs like the present. We requested the government to go slow, but they just would not listen,” Gandhi said. He called the Modi government anti-poor and said it was working against the interests of the common people.
What has hit the hardest the poor is the fact that the Modi government is not serious on creating jobs, especially for the poor . Here it is worth mentioning that addressing an election rally in Agra, on November 22, 2013, Mr. Modi had said that if the BJP comes to power, it will provide one crore jobs which the UPA government could not do despite announcing it before the last Lok Sabha polls. Countering this former Union Minister Kapil Sibbal in an article in The Hindu writes:
“In the three years 2009 to 2011, when India’s GDP was still growing at an average 8.5 per cent, the organised sector was producing on average 9.5 lakh new jobs every year. In the last two years, 2015 and 2016, average employment generation has plummeted to less than 2 lakh jobs a year. This is less than 25 per cent of the annual employment generated before 2011. In 2015, employment generated in eight labour intensive sectors collapsed to an all-time low of 1.5 lakh jobs. By adding service sectors to the organised sector employment data, the figures show a slight improvement in the growth of new jobs in 2016. New jobs generated increased from 1.55 lakh in 2015 to 2.31 lakh in 2016. But this is still only 25 per cent of the organised sector jobs generated in 2009.
“Data on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act show that unemployment continues unabated, and in fact seems to be worsening. In Mr. Modi’s first year as Prime Minister, 4.65 crore households demanded work in the scheme. In 2015-16, this number had increased by 15 per cent to reach 5.3 crore. In 2016-17, it further increased by 6 per cent to reach a staggering 5.69 crore households in search of work.”
Upholding farmers’ welfare, in one of his “Chai Pe Charcha” programmes on March 20, 2014, Narendra Modi, then Gujarat Chief Minister, termed farmer suicides as a “national agony” and added that “the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) shall stand behind all farmers hit by natural calamities like the recent hailstorms, or economic crises. I shall not be able to sleep peacefully till I do something for you.” He wanted a system where with the infusion of modern technology, water resources and efforts to double agriculture output, farmers were not driven to end their lives. Thus his attention was focussed on ensuring farmer welfare.
According to a National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, titled “Accidental deaths and suicides in India, 2015”, the number of farmers who committed suicide was 8,007. The corresponding number in 2014 was 5,650. Thus there has been a 42 per cent increase in loss of lives between 2014 and 2015. After blaming the UPA and its policies for farmer suicides, in the run-up to the 2014 general election and much after, this government now attributes suicides to reasons which it says have nothing to do with its policies.
Now back to Mr. Modi. Addressing a rally in Pathankot in Punjab, on April 25, 2014, as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, he said: “If the NDA comes to power, it will ensure remunerative prices to the farmers by adding 50 per cent profit into the peasants’ input cost.” In addition he said: “We will fix the Minimum Support Price of crops incorporating 50 per cent profit in farmers’ cost of production including seed, irrigation, manure, labour.” And he ended by saying that “no one will be allowed to loot farmers.”
Fast forward to February 2015. In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the Modi government did a U-turn, stating that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) cannot be fixed on the basis of “cost+50 per cent” as that would distort the market. Between 2009 and ’10, the MSP for paddy was Rs. 950 a quintal as against a production cost of Rs. 670 a quintal — translating to a 42 per cent margin of profit for farmers. In 2015-16, the MSP for paddy was Rs. 1,410 a quintal against an estimated production cost of Rs. 1,324 a quintal, which is only a 6.5 per cent margin of profit to farmers. It is clear that the procurement prices of wheat, paddy and other agricultural produce have been much less than the price received by farmers during the UPA’s tenure.
Another Modi statement made in early 2014: “The Congress had promised to curb inflation in 100 days, but did they live up to their promises? Don’t trust those who betray public trust. If the governments of Vajpayeeji and Morarji Desai could stop price rise, why can’t we? The BJP government in 2014 will do it, I assure you.” But fact remains that food inflation has not shown any trends of reversing. Instead, prices of essential commodities are on the rise, with pulses especially selling at Rs. 100-Rs. 150 a kg, which is creating a deep hole in the pocket of the poor. Petrol and diesel prices continue to be raised with shocking regularity. If this apathy continues on part of Modi, the poor in 2019 election might teach him the bitterest lesson.
By Uday India Bureau