Entitlement or Empowerment?
Apart from the obvious promotion of casteism in the ongoing electioneering in Gujarat by the Congress party, its newly elected President (President-elect, at the time of writing) Rahul Gandhi has spared no opportunity in branding Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his government at the centre and the incumbent BJP government in Gujarat as “anti-poor”. Of course, Rahul does no longer say that Modi’s is a “suit boot ki sarkar”, something he loved saying two years ago; but his campaign-theme is pretty clear that under the Modi regime the poor has become poorer with no job and opportunities. In fact, Rahul represents all the anti-Modi forces of the country in accusing the Prime Minister of helping a select group of industrialists and “punishing” the poor through measures such as demonetisation and GST.
For Rahul, or for that matter all the Modi-baiters in general, it does not matter that in the last three years, global leaders have taken India a little more seriously and find it much easier to do business in India. Global rating agencies still have great faith in the course the Indian economy is on. The latest estimate is that the GDP growth rate has reversed its downward turn by overcoming the short-term hardships that followed in the aftermath of demonetisation. But all these do not impress the likes of Rahul Gandhi. And that is understandable.
All told, Modi has always given the impression that he is not one of those leaders who encourage the “politics of entitlement”, a Nehruvian philosophy that talks of distributing only freebies to the poor in the form of one subsidy or the other. Modi, on the other hand, is for the “politics of empowerment”. He had promised that he would create a situation where people do not remain poor. He had talked about empowering the poor by creating conducive environment for the self-growth and overall development of the country.
In fact, various welfare schemes that Modi has introduced are empowering the poor. “Ujjwala Yojana” is a scheme under which LPG gas connections are being given free to poor households to enable the women to remain healthy by avoiding smoke and firewood, collection of which takes away their precious time; there is “MUDRA Yojana,” a flagship scheme with a motive to “fund the unfunded” by extending formal credit to micro and small enterprises; the “Startup India programme’ has been implemented to build an ecosystem where innovation is nurtured by facilitation through loans from the formal sector; and then there is the “Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana,” the insurance scheme with lowest possible premium to cover yield loss as well as post-harvest losses of poor farmers. All these need to be seen along with opening up bank accounts for the poor and direct cash transfer to them in various government-funded welfare-activities so as to avoid corrupt middlemen.
If anything over the last three years if Modi and his cabinet colleagues have spoken most to highlight their achievements, then it is on the social and rural sectors. The Prime Minister, whose main support base otherwise consists of the urban middle class and business communities, has invariably prided in the facts that his government brought out the “Jan Dhan” scheme for the poorest of the poor and opened more than 14 crore bank accounts for financial inclusion; that he has replaced leaky, expensive-to-administer and badly-targeted subsidies with direct payments to the poor as a more efficient way to help the country’s needy; and that he started direct payments for cooking gas in some places and is hoping to expand them to subsidise food and fertilizer purchases for the poorest. In fact, his government is said to be on the course of the task of achieving 100 per cent LPG penetration in the country, mainly to improve the lives of rural masses in general and preventing premature deaths of over four million Indians from illness attributable to household air pollution. The “smokeless plan”, implemented through Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL), has been to get the villagers to switch from cooking fuels like kerosene, charcoal and firewood, to LGP.
In a press interview, Modi has said: “We have launched MUDRA Bank for financing 6 crore small vendors and businesses, 61 per-cent of whom are SCs, STs, OBCs and Minorities. We have launched the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana which the Congress did not think of in sixty years. We have planned to see that by 2022, no family remains without a roof over its head. The Soil Health Card scheme has been launched to enhance farm productivity and reduce expenses, thereby enhancing the farmer’s income. We have come out with a comprehensive social security scheme for the poor and marginalised, old and those with low-income levels. Swachh Bharat Mission has been started to see that health and hygiene issues of the poor do not affect the working capacity and output of the poor and labourers.”
It is, of course, true that Modi has not been able to bring about as many reforms as he would have liked, even though it is a huge achievement that his government succeeded at long last in passing the legislation on the much talked-about Goods and Services Tax, which has created a unified market in the country from July this year. His government’s other legislations such as the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code and Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) Act will certainly uplift the economy and add transparency in the financial and business landscape. But then Modi has singularly failed in passing the Land-Acquisition Bill, so vital for the success of his “Make in India” programme. After all, there cannot be any industry without suitable land.
It is important to note that two principal challenges confronting Modi have been his own Sangh Parivar and “the Delhi establishment,” which includes Delhi bureaucracy, Delhi intelligentsia and Delhi media. Many BJP or RSS members also belong to the Delhi establishment, which, deeply committed to Nehruvianism, is yet to reconcile with what it virtually thinks to be a hostile takeover by Modi, a rank outsider. In fact, many within the BJP and Sangh Parivar are opposed to the ushering in of bold reforms. That explains why Modi has had a poor pace in bringing about some vital administrative reforms that do not require immediate legislative support or approval.
There have been no major administrative reforms such as police reforms and out-of-the-box measures in the education and health sectors. As a result, we do not have enough employable youth. We do not have adequate manpower to absorb the foreign technology and handle transfer of technology. We continue to produce useless college or university degrees. The Modi government has not given the vocational education its due, the education that will lead to employable skilled personnel who may choose to be small-scale entrepreneurs themselves or join the small and medium scale industries, the real source of a nation’s wealth in the ultimate analysis.
The latest officially released figures from the Labor Bureau are alarming, indeed. In the last two years, the average employment generation has plummeted to less than 2 lakh jobs a year, which is less than 25 percent of the annual employment generated before 2011. Of course, the bureau’s statistics do not provide the big picture, particularly when most Indian jobs have always been in the unorganized sector. But they suggest two ominous signs. One, the government jobs, including the ones in the public sectors, are shrinking. This, in turn — and it is the second sign — is largely responsible for demonstrations by young Patels of Gujarat, Jats of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and the Kapus in Andhra Pradesh in the name of reservations.
Modi’s biggest challenge in the days ahead is the increasing but perverse demands for reservations, with his social justice minister Thawar Chand Gehlot openly supporting the thesis that every community must have reservations in proportion to its actual number. What it implies is that those who opt for smaller families are punished, not rewarded. It also means that people should produce as many children as they can, not educate them properly, and demand that the state gives them jobs even if they are not competent enough. This is a frightening scenario.
However, people do realize that Modi cannot set the mess of non-governance of 70 years right in just three years. In fact, given the alternatives we have in the country’s polity today, Modi does provide the hope that he is the only Indian politician today who can deliver. He is not corrupt. He is hard-working. He has got the right ideas for the country, be it “Swachh Bharat” for sanitation or “Make in India.” If his government cannot deliver, no one else’s can, as far as one can see.
By Prakash Nanda