Millennium Post

Come polls, rain subsidies

Thanks to a belligerent media, which thrives best in the times of elections, and if they have their way they would want to have the country always in poll mode, the bonanza for the voters have started to come in early. There are polls to the legislative assemblies of four important states of Hindi heartland – Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – scheduled for November-December this year. This would be followed by the General Election in the summer of 2014.

The politics of subsidy is going to be a major issue in the polls at least that is the way a corruption-ridden UPA-II government would want it to be. Towards this end the government has already enacted the National Food Security Act’ 2013 and would seek legitimacy for it in the upcoming Monsoon session of parliament.

That the Congress would in turn seek credit for the passage of this Act is evident from the address which Congress leader Rahul Gandhi delivered at the meeting of the leaders of the state Congress presidents and leaders of the legislative parties. He exhorted them to publicise it as Congress’s endeavour to ensure that none went hungry.

The Congress vice-president in his remarks claimed that ‘it was for the first time in the history of the country that any government had passed a legislation on the people’s right to food.’ Something which has been rightly contested by the principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP-ruled state of Chhattisgarh has taken initiatives at what it calls not just food security but nutritional food security.

Even Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal termed the Centre’s act as a ‘copied act’. The Chief Minister has claimed that the SAD-BJP government in Punjab has been providing food security to the poor through its Atta-Dal scheme for long.

The national food security act seeks to provide five kilograms of food grains per person of a family at certain stipulated rates by the government who are covered under the provision of the act. For the next three years, the rate of rice to be provided under the act would be Rs three per kg, Rs two per kg for wheat and Rs one per kg for coarse grains. The implementation of this act would come with a huge government subsidy goes without saying.

However, why grudge the food security act alone, governments are taking various other steps offering poll-time bonanzas. Sheila Dikshit-led Delhi government last week offered a huge subsidy of Rs 500 crore to offset the load of increased power tariffs from being passed onto the consumers.

The subsidy being provided to the consumer would also accrue benefit to the privately-owned power distribution companies, who have not conducted themselves with either any degree of corporate efficiency or public accountability.

For once the people would like to believe the leader of Opposition in Delhi Assembly VK Malhotra, who, following the announcement of the relief, said, ‘Though burden of the hike would be shared by the government, the benefit would pass on to the private power distributors.’ He went onto add that massive power tariff hike and the granting of subsidy thereafter exposed the unholy nexus between the private power supplying companies and the government.

The Delhi government has also readied its model of the food security act. In fact all the state governments ruled by the Congress party would ‘give a big push to the Nehru- Gandhi effort to erase hunger from the map of India.’ Such launch, most appropriate from the Congress point of view, has been scheduled on 20 August, the birthday of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
The distribution of poll-time sops is not just limited to the states which are scheduled to face polls in November. Such states which are ruled by the regional parties look to be in an extreme hurry to fulfill the poll promises specially when it implementation means accrual of personal benefit to the voters. In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, while the law and order and infrastructure are in shambles, the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party government is scratching the bottom of the barrel to the distribute laptops among the youth, whom Yadav sees as his potential voter.

The politics of subsidy has given rise to the debate whether it’s a genuine attempt at socially, educationally and nutritionally empower the masses or just the case of electoral investment. There is a very strong argument in its favour, which says that there no wrong in investing into the poor masses through government subsidies as it empowers them and if a political party gains electorally from the implementation of such schemes, it’s fair in a democratic welfare state.
While this argument would have been very apt for a socialistic model, it is drawing very spirited opposition in a liberalized post-1991 India. The cyber class, which believes in certain social elitism, has shown unbridled abhorrence for such subsidies. Since the debate on the social media groups do have the potential of creating a buzz and are representative of certain sections, it should not be ignored.

Is there a scope for balance? The demands of keeping the economy on track coupled with the need to have timely and bumper electoral harvests should provide that much needed element of balance. Mere economic growth sans social empowerment cannot be an India story. Subsidy is here to remain but then government would have to act discreetly.

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