New Delhi: Engaged in a game of competitive one-upmanship, the BJP and the Congress have been announcing one fancy scheme or the other, caring two hoots for the tax payer. Doles, not jobs seems to be the mantra. But this time the Congress has surely surpassed itself by offering to do something that no other Indian government has done thus far. Party President Rahul Gandhi has promised a guaranteed minimum income for the poor across the country.
It will be credited to bank accounts. The pre-poll pledge is a take-off on the ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan coined by Indira Gandhi in the 1971 general elections that she won. The announcement comes even as the Modi government is reportedly considering a scheme that would see direct cash transfers to farmers instead of subsidies, as a sort of monthly income support. Rahul’s scheme is surely intended to outmanoeuvre the Modi government and set the agenda for the general election.
Appropriating an expression that PM Modi occasionally uses – New India – Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet — We cannot build a new India while millions of our brothers & sisters suffer the scourge of poverty. If voted to power in 2019, the Congress is committed to a Minimum Income Guarantee for every poor person, to help eradicate poverty & hunger. This is our vision & our promise.”
Rahul’s out-of-the-box announcement is clearly aimed at stealing Prime Minister Modi’s thunder. Interestingly, the concept was first introduced by PM Modi’s former chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian, in the economic survey of 2017 under the head ‘universal basic income’. The Survey had even suggested an income of Rs 7,620 per person per annum under its model of universal basic income (UBI). However, the plan never saw the light of the day.
But whereas under UBI, each person is entitled to a minimum income, Rahul’s scheme is targeted only at the poor. He touted it as the third historic gift of the Congress. “We guaranteed 100-day work under MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). We introduced RTI (Right to Information). After winning 2009 elections, every poor person would be given minimum income. This is a historic decision.
No government in the world has done this,” he said. Rahul is wrong here: many countries have tried this utopian idea of every citizen securing a minimum basic income but failed to usher in an equitable society. The latest country to experiment with the radical concept is Italy, the country of origin of his mother Sonia Gandhi. Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram responded to the announcement by saying that the “poor of India have the first claim on the resources of the country” and that the “Congress will find the resources to implement the promise of Rahul Gandhi”.
Chidambaram further pointed out that the concept of Universal Basic Income has been discussed widely in the last two years and that the “time has come to adapt the principle to our situation and our needs and implement the same for the poor”. The plan will further be explained in the Congress manifesto, Chidambaram said. According to economists, the idea behind a basic income is that all are entitled to a reasonable income, notwithstanding their contribution to the economy