In a move to gain popular support ahead of the General Elections in May, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has pulled a rabbit out of his hat by abruptly revealing his party’s plan to guarantee a “minimum income” for the poor, if voted to power. Nothing has been said of how the party defines “poor” in this regard though. And, it is also unclear if this scheme will be independently funded or if existing schemes would bear the brunt through deductions—neither path being clearly favourable to the other. Although the idea of a minimum income isn’t really a novelty, this is the first time it has been proposed for India—the reason why people eagerly await the release of Congress’s latest election manifesto.
I have noticed that the INC has been following a certain pattern to outperform BJP recently. Their mantra seems to be to offer monetary help to the poor in return for votes—a strategy that has worked till now. We saw how farm loan waivers propelled Congress back to power in the state elections near the end of last year; and now, the proposition made for the General Elections looks equally potent. Therefore, there is no doubt that the party has received a huge boost in their election bid after the minimum income announcement.
Critics argue that giving ‘free money’ to the poor would eventually lead to a ‘poverty trap’—a scenario in which the incentive to work dies as beneficiaries of the minimum income scheme start living off entirely on government’s money. I agree that this is a legit matter of concern; however, I still think that unemployment due to lack of incentive would count as an improvement on unemployment due to a dearth of jobs which we face today. Because the unemployed lacking incentive can still make their ends meet, thanks to the monthly income government affords them, but the same is not true for the unemployed facing a drying pool of jobs without any financial aid. This sense of security which a guaranteed monthly income provides to the poor is crucial for their upliftment too.
RaGa’s “minimum income guarantee” is a hot topic in the election debate right now. Apparently, the decision to build UPA’s election bid around this ambitious scheme is paying off and getting them the desired attention. They no longer look like the emperors of a bygone era but like a rejuvenated force of Indian Politics. If RaGa’s party is able to lay its plan out convincingly in the new manifesto, things might just go in UPA’s favour this time—beware NDA!