Free Ration Scheme, A Political Masterstroke Or Economic Misstep?

Free Ration Scheme, A Political Masterstroke Or Economic Misstep?

Extension of this ration scheme, according to the Union finance ministry, will cost the exchequer at least 15,000 crore more each year for giving free ration to 80 crore households for the next five years. Will this not add to the already burgeoning subsidy bill?

Neelu VyasUpdated: Tuesday, November 07, 2023, 11:59 PM IST
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Free Ration Scheme, A Political Masterstroke Or Economic Misstep? | representational pic

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent announcement of the extension of the free foodgrain scheme in the middle of the Chhattisgarh elections is competitive populism playing out galore. Some would say it's an announcement made in desperation as the Bharatiya Janata Party is running out of options. Others would pat the BJP's back and hail it as a masterstroke, as it has outsmarted the Opposition parties who neither can oppose openly not support it wholeheartedly. Since the scheme benefits the majority population, options before the Opposition parties are limited. The PM’s announcement is almost like a curveball thrown onto the political pitch, leaving the Opposition in a tizzy. Look at the manner in which parties like the Congress and the Trinamool Congress had to rephrase themselves. The grand old party says extension of ration scheme is an admission of the failure of economic policies of the Modi government; in fact Congress leader Jairam Ramesh called it an indication of economic distress and growing inequality in the country. Trinamool Congress calls it a blatant violation of the model code of conduct as it also decides to approach the Election Commission.

The Opposition parties have to take a political positioning, specially when it's election time, but the extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna which started during the Covid era also bares contradictions in Modi's policies. It's a fact that incomes have not grown in line with the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities. Modi as Gujarat chief minister had consistently opposed the Food Security Act of the UPA govt, so politically is this not a Uturn by the Modi government?

Extension of this ration scheme, according to the Union finance ministry, will cost the exchequer at least 15,000 crore more each year for giving free ration to 80 crore households for the next five years. Will this not add to the already burgeoning subsidy bill? The statement by Modi is also an admission of prevailing hunger in the country, which was also captured by the Global Hunger Index 2023. The index ranked India 111 out of 125 countries, which is worse than its neighbours; Pakistan was at 102, Bangladesh 81, Nepal 69, and Sri Lanka at 60. While the rate of undernourishment in India, according to the index, stood at 16.6% and under-five mortality at 3.1%, the prevalence of anemia in women aged between 15 and 24 years stood at 58.1%. After the release of the index, in the second week of October, the Modi government had rejected the index on the grounds of “methodological issues”. It had described the ranking given to India as “erroneous and having malafide intent”. The PM's announcement of extension in a way re-emphasises that hunger and poverty prevails in the country. Also PM Modi has been criticising the Opposition parties on what he terms “revadi culture”. Will Prime Minister after this announcement of the extension of the ration scheme never make a mention of the “revadis”? Remember Arvind Kejriwal once said, “Some people are talking about revadi. When revadi is distributed among the public for free, then it’s called ‘prasad’ (devotional offering).” He added, “It is given for free to your own friends, ministers, then it is ‘paap’ [sin]”. So is this ration scheme an economic misstep or a political masterstroke? The jury could be out on that, but PM Modi certainly would have to face more questions, and would be disparaged further.

Neelu Vyas is a senior television anchor and consulting editor with Satya Hindi. Twitter: @neeluopines

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