Progress Vs Welfare
The incumbent announced a manned mission to space by 2022 while the challenger promised to deposit Rs 72,000 into bank accounts of the poorest 20%. Prime Minister Modi boasts of taking India 23 places higher in the Ease of Doing Business ranking while Rahul assures that he will double government spending on health & education. This year's electoral battle seems heavily divided between the reassurance of national progress and promise of social welfare. But, how do these leaders fare on real parameters of performance?
Minimum Income Support has recurred across election campaigns, stemming from India's age-old battle against poverty. Basic support, many believe, could provide initial fodder for the marginalised to reverse their condition.
BJP: Narendra Modi's 2014 election campaign was dominated by a promise of providing Rs 15 lakh to every account, along with other measures. Since coming to power, no mention of Rs 15 lakh has been heard again.
CONGRESS: The NYAY scheme of providing the poorest 20% families with a cash transfer of Rs 72,000 a year has attracted attention. Questions linger on the source of such finance beyond existing schemes.
EDITOR'S TAKE: Providing subsistence-level income does not undo the crisis. Monetary support can only be the cherry on a cake of successful policies that nurture employment in strained sectors and bolster innovation in rural India.
Jobless growth has been a hot topic of debate – India seems to be growing but corollary employment avenues are numbered.
BJP: Despite emphasis on start-ups and indigenous entrepreneurship, unemployment is the greatest plague of Modi's New India. Worst, today, unemployment rate has hit its 45-year highest at 7.2%.
CONGRESS: Riding on the current critique of unemployment, Congress has promised to attend to the crisis by first filling all central and state government vacancies by 2022. Further, Rahul's MGNREGA promises 150 days of work from the existing 100.
EDITOR'S TAKE: Realising the urgent need to fill government vacancies is correct. Greater emphasis must also be stressed on skilling our population, formalising the extremely scattered micro, small and medium enterprises alongside provided ancillary agricultural jobs.
Hate crimes, particularly motivated by communal and vigilante sentiments, have occupied centre-stage in the last five years. Whether flogging of Dalits or lynching of Muslims, our society has not shied from showing its ugly, brutal face.
BJP: The ruling party has been blamed for fostering communal tension. Insignificant arrests, lack of preventive mechanisms and local ministers celebrating perpetrators have drawn wide social criticism.
CONGRESS: The party is riding on NDA's ill-reputation and has duly promised to pass a law that will prevent and punish mob-engineered hate crimes. Despite the good intent, memories of Sikh riots linger.
EDITOR'S TAKE: This is a most sensitive subject for India. But can a law be enough? Hardly. We need broader systems of education for our children. Localised propagation of practicing 'unity in diversity' must complement law and punishment.
Kashmir has dominated national discourse since 1947. With no clear solution in sight, debates surrounding its resolution only grow in intensity until they dissipate and give way to another national crisis; before erupting again.
BJP: Kashmir today is witnessing a most difficult time. BJP has been blamed for ineffective administration that has resulted in widespread violence, use of pellet guns on children and the ultimate dissolution of the state assembly. With terror attacks and encounters on the rise, Kashmiris are living their days in turmoil. The only silver lining has been a rise in the number of terrorists nabbed.
CONGRESS: During UPA rule, Kashmir witnessed less violence and was able to present a facade of normalcy; a permanent solution though was as elusive. Congress, this time, has attended to AFSPA, spoken of firming the border and ensuring security in tandem with securing human rights.
EDITOR'S TAKE: Kashmir needs a permanent resolution; it must be a government agenda irrespective of elections. To overwrite Kashmir, India's deep policy failure must be acknowledged and learnt from. And, for true integration, increased compassion must complement border control.
Defence is among the greatest markers of a country's physical supremacy in the modern world. What with talk of nuclear wars and ballistic missiles while we share borders with toxic neighbours, China and Pakistan – New India necessitates defence preparedness.
BJP: India is today portrayed and understood as a far superior defence establishment than it was five years ago. The surgical strikes post Uri and Pulwama stand testimony. With Mission Shakti, India has furthered her military scope to space. Under the current dispensation, foreign investment in defence has gone up from 26% to 49%.
CONGRESS: Under UPA, India was touted as a weak military establishment. Rahul, now, has promised to firm borders alongside creating manufacturing capacities in public sector and in pre-qualified, security-cleared private sector companies.
EDITOR'S TAKE: Despite Chinese and Pak provocation, India must know, today's world is about peace not war. A war between China, Pakistan and India, all nuclear-backed countries, will lead to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). 5 lakh children in India die each year of malnutrition, no terror outfit kills as intensely and as regularly – yet defence expenditure is 5 times the health expenditure. India must rethink her priorities.
Privacy and benefits, though not often liked, have come under the scanner with Aadhaar and its implementation. Enacted with the intent to ease the transfer of subsidies and allow technology to permeate life, it soon became a gruelling task.
BJP: The government widened Aadhaar's influence and made its linking mandatory – pushing the idea of ease in transfer of subsidies. This ultimately led to massive confusion, with many in rural areas being left out of the Aadhaar net and without access to many basic facilities. After a Supreme Court review, the 2018 amendment has rejected compulsory linking.
CONGRESS: Aadhaar was a UPA-II scheme, heavily criticised by then opposition BJP. Initially, under Dr Manmohan Singh, it was supposed to be compulsory but linking wasn't mandatory. Now, Congress says it will bring back the same provision and ensure that those without linked accounts are not bereft of benefits.
EDITOR'S TAKE: A great policy move that fell flat on its face. Making linking compulsory was ill-thought. Though the 2018 amendment seeks to undo mistakes, the damage has been done and ordinary citizens are now wary of what could've been a commendable policy move.
NITI Aayog replaced Planning Commission in 2015, among the first markers of Modi's New India. Its blueprint was borrowed from a study conducted by Dr Singh during UPA-II, whose intention was to bring an overhaul in the Planning Commission and make it a 'systems reform commission' to foster cooperative federalism, provide knowledge support to union and state governments and monitor as well as evaluate its policies and programmes.
BJP: Though appreciated as the revamped model of an outdated system, NDA's NITI Aayog has been critiqued for its ambiguity in role, for failing to influence either central or state administrations and becoming a political tool for the ruling government.
CONGRESS: Reverberating off Modi's perceived failure in NITI Aayog's functioning, Rahul has promised to bring back the Planning Commission.
EDITOR'S TAKE: Debating nomenclature is irrelevant. We need a central commission to govern states, the Centre and build cooperative federalism. We also need checks to measure failures, bring them to light and foster active debate to create a cohesive federalism, not a disintegrated union.
Healthcare for 1.3 billion is a concern, especially when a large section of that society lives at basic subsistence levels. Further, containing epidemics, capping prices and preventing NCDs has been on India's agenda for long.
BJP: Modi government earnt applause with the announcement of Ayushman Bharat. Yet, of 100 million families, only 1 million have been covered and criticisms on private empanelment loom large. Encouraging generic drugs has been a commendable move. Yet, with five times less share than defence, India's health budget remains appalling.
CONGRESS: In its manifesto, Congress has promised to double spending on health to 3% of GDP. Departing from Modi's insurance-based medical assistance, Rahul has emphasised on implementing the free public hospitals model to provide universal healthcare.
EDITOR'S TAKE: India has had policies for long, it requires better implementation. Rural access to quality medical treatment must improve. Doctors should provide free services in remote regions and medicines must be carefully priced. Private hospitals overcharging patients and government hospitals providing inadequate care, both need attention.
Agrarian distress has headlined independent India. Irrespective of growth in manufacturing and technology, benefits of prosperity rarely percolate down to rural India.
BJP: Modi's initial promise of doubling farmers' income by 2019 has now been pushed to 2022. The PM Fasal Bima Yojana, a corporate gimmick, has failed – since the 2016 kharif season, in two years, insurance companies collected total premium of Rs 50,036 crore and paid out total compensation worth Rs 35,949 crore – saving Rs 14,088 crore as profit. Besides, failing subsidies and debt trap have nurtured country-wide agitations.
CONGRESS: After many failed attempts at rectifying the agricultural situation, Congress, this time, has promised a separate Kisan Budget for the country. It has also promised to waive outstanding loans and put a cap on the need to borrow incessant loans. Further, farmer loan defaults will be a civil liability, not criminal.
EDITOR'S TAKE: Focus must be laid on strengthening the farm sector, not merely providing fixes. While we develop secondary and tertiary sectors, we must also modernise agriculture. Middlemen must be checked and rural India must be made better prepared to deal with climatic exigencies.
Environmental conservation is our duty and the pace of everyday development demands greater service to this cause. India is now the 3rd most polluted place in the world with fatal air pollution levels in northern India. Development has impinged upon coastal lines and forests, indigenous rights are constantly bulldozed over.
BJP: Modi received Champions of Earth Award from UN but BJP failed miserably on all its promises. Namami Gange is a known flop. Our rivers are contaminated and our forests stand vulnerable to infrastructure development. Solar policy and emphasis on reducing the use of smoke chullahs can be given to the credit of the ruling party.
CONGRESS: The party made an important statement by emphasising environment in its manifesto, an issue that isn't known to secure may votes. It has promised to establish an Environment Protection Authority, redefine the role of the Forest Departments and strengthen NCAP to tackle rising air pollution.
EDITOR'S TAKE: Environment conservation must take centre-stage today. Whether in modes of energy, use of vehicles, providing public transport and last mile connectivity or encouraging green practices in manufacturing hubs – environment demands greater deliberation.
Education holds the key for India to become a fully-developed nation. Since independence, India's rate of literacy has improved sharply with schools and colleges mushrooming in most areas.
BJP: Education spending touched its all-time low in 2017-18 and BJP has failed to name a new educational policy. The imposition of another 10% EWS quota in colleges and universities has placated some but also caused unhappiness among general candidates whose access to places is already numbered as a punishment for privilege.
CONGRESS: Remarkably, the party has stressed upon increasing Right to Education up to Class 12 alongside a promise of doubling spending on education to 6% of GDP.
EDITOR'S TAKE: Capacitating existing schools, colleges, etc., is the most important. Vacancies in teaching are pervasive across government schools and colleges and Indian students have fared the poorest in terms of learning ability. Better teacher training and improving the quality of existing institutions hold key.
The economy's health ultimately, will mark the success of a government. Shiny GDP numbers mean more to us than rates of unemployment and happiness, unfortunately.
BJP: The current government can be credited for ensuring a stable economy despite major policy flops in demonetisation and GST. The falling rupee has raised eyebrows though fiscal deficit has remained somewhat stable. Fuel prices have been the major roadblock with government having earlier refused subsidies. In comparison to UPA-II, fuel prices are higher today despite a global drop in crude oil prices.
CONGRESS: The party has promised to bring fiscal deficit below 3% but its Hindu rate of growth has earlier raised eyebrows. Modi's greatest credit has been emphasis on business and cash; Congress fails severely here.
EDITOR'S TAKE: Economy is in a better shape today, unemployment though needs attention. Government must find a solution behind positive growth numbers not converting into desirable employment outcomes.
Modi has positioned himself as decisive leader, able to take exigent decisions
Instance: GST, swift recovery of Wg Cdr Abhinandan...
India has exhibited reckoning defence strength
Instance: Uri, Balakot, Mission Shakti...
Government has gained clean chit in containing internal corruption
Instance: No proven corruption in high offices like UPA's 2G scam, Commonwealth Games scam...
Infrastructure has visibly improved
Instance: UPA-II built 4,260 km of national highways, while Modi built 9,829 km by 2017-18; 7.2 crore increase in domestic air travellers along with 60% increase in access to toilets; 50% increase in data usage in five years...
Growth has not complemented employment
Instance: Unemployment rate is at a 45-year high
Hate has infiltrated society; targeted mob violence and lynching have infected India
Instance: Mohammad Aqhlaq, Junaid, Una flogging, the list is exhaustive
Civil unrest from Kashmir to Kerala
Instance: Violence in the Valley: pellet guns blinding children, increased militancy, Pulwama attack; Sabarimala dispute; pan-India farmers' agitations...
Severe policy stumbles
Instance: Demonetisation paralysed the informal economy that employs 81% of working India; GST further crippled the unorganised sector, small and medium traders; Namami Gange has failed
Propagation of soft state
Instance: Criticising Modi's anti-critique rhetoric, Congress's promise to repeal sedition; promises to ease linking of Aadhaar, law against excessive surveillance...
Instance: Under UPA-II, Kashmir has been less unstable; Rahul has laid attention on AFSPA and human rights violation in the Valley
Giving people a source of livelihood
Instance: Unemployment is at its 45-year high and UPA has tackled it better. Rahul promises to fill government vacancies by 2020
Tolerance towards communities, habits and ways of life
Instance: Against rising hate and mob vigilantism, Rahul's government promises to condemn communal or caste violence…..
Instance: Rahul hasn't been able to posit himself as an able leader; 'Pappu' is still widely sniggered at while Priyanka hasn't yet occupied centre-stage
Corruption in high offices
Instance: 2G scam, Commonwealth Games scam….. UPA is prone to high-level corruption
Staggered economic growth
Instance: UPA has been criticised for its Hindu rate of growth; Modi has brought stability and increased FDI despite policy flops
India's weak global positioning
Instance: India's softer stance to Pakistan yielded zilch; under Modi, EDB ranking has improved several steps