COME elections, and there is a shower of promises to the people. Political parties have started releasing their manifestoes. The Congress is the first among major parties to come out with a long list of promises to bring out a ‘transformation’ in the life of people if voted to power. Carrying the tagline ‘Congress will deliver’ the 55-page manifesto gives assurance on job creation, addressing farm distress, bringing a single moderate rate of GST and giving Rs 72,000 per annum to poor families under a Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) scheme. There is also the promise of bringing out a separate budget for farmers and allocation of 6 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to education. For the poor it has assured 150 days of guaranteed employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) instead of the 100 days. There are promises for boosting healthcare infrastructure and enhancing safety of women. In short, the Congress has tried to please everybody with its manifesto.
Well, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So is it with every promise of political parties. The proof of the promise lies in the living. There is often a hiatus between what political parties say in their manifesto and do in the government when they are elected to power. Manifestoes are characterized by tactics to capitalize on the failures of the party in power in structuring development and welfare programmes and in delivering them. The Congress manifesto is clearly aiming to capitalize on the inadequacies of the financial reforms brought about by the NDA government. They are capitalizing on the issues that have not yet been sorted out regarding Goods and Services Tax (GST) by the Modi government. The Congress has promised to radically simplify the GST regime with a single moderate rate of tax. The objective is to get the support of small and medium businesses that have been facing problems in dealing with GST. Businesses and common people alike have been complaining of high taxes for several goods and services. The NDA government tried to bring down the rates in some cases. Yet a lot needs to be done to make it smooth.
The other major section of the electorate the Congress is aiming at is farmers. The Modi government has taken a number of measures in the last one year, such as loan waiver, Rs 6,000 government grant per year for every farmer and so on. However, there is a widespread distress among farmers. The Congress is seeking to capitalize on the distress by promising to change the game from loan waiver to generation of income for farmers. It is true that the farmers of the country suffer as much from the volatility of the market as of Nature. The farmers have taken advantage of science and technology to increase yield. But they do not get much profit out of their production. More than 70 per cent of the share of the consumer price is gobbled up by the intermediaries. Although the Congress has promised to help the farmers make profit out of agriculture, the party has not indicated how they will do so.
The Rs 12,000 minimum monthly income guarantee scheme (NYAY) for the people can play a role in alleviation of poverty. However, concerns have been raised over its implementation. The first thing lacking in this regard is authentic data on household incomes. Most poverty alleviation schemes have failed because the benefits have not reached the targeted sections of population. NYAY could meet the same fate in the absence of data. There is serious danger of fake lists being made by government officials and panchas and money being siphoned away by them. The data collected by the Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011 have been found to be faulty, with lakhs of people who actually qualify for various central government schemes, including Ayushaman Bharat scheme, deprived of benefits because their names do not figure in the SECC 2011. If voted to power the Congress would first have to order a scientific and thorough survey to prepare a precise list of households (with the name and bank account number of the woman of the house). If they implement the scheme on the basis of available data oceans of corruption would flow and poverty will remain where it is. Fresh data collection could delay the delivery of NYAY, but it would be worth. The Congress, if it comes to power, will also have to deal with the fears that NYAY has triggered among taxpaying classes. The government would need to levy fresh taxes to get the Rs 3.6 lakh crore needed to service the NYAY scheme.