Commitment for upliftment of poor, unprivileged, downtrodden is in the DNA of the Congress

Sandesh may Wed, 18 May 2016

Commitment for upliftment of poor, unprivileged, downtrodden is in the DNA of the Congress

While defining History the celebrated historian, E H Carr, divides facts occurring in the past into two categories – facts of history and the historical facts. Needless to point out that unaccountable facts go down the drain while historical facts find place of pride to be chronicled in the text for the progeny to know the crux of the past in order to usher in a bright era of present and shape up the future on that basis. The programmes, policies, actions, commitments and concerns are best reflected through the policy formulations. Historical facts get itched in the memory of the masses and leave indelible imprint on the psyche of the countrymen.

 

What the Congress government has done for the poor, landless, untouchables and tribal’s to name some, goes down in the history of India as historical facts which will continue to defy eras ion, erosion or public amnesia. If India has emerged as a power to be reckoned with internationally, and a villager can be spotted talking on mobile or the flickering shades of light are emanating from jhuggis in which colour TV sets are roaring, all credit goes to the long, determined and sagacious pragmatic policies of the successive Congress governments at the centre.

 

Thanks to the opening up of the Indian economy. The tremendous impetus injected by the Man Mohan government changed the dormant economy into a young and vibrant one. India does not remain the same. The gulf between the two worlds-rural and city life is fast disappearing. Standard of living has surely increased in the rural parts, scientic temper has swept over the young generation, plight of public health has improved and most importantly, the self-confidence among those hitherto languishing at the bottom of socioeconomic labyrinth seems to have received a new lease of life. While the growth is now stagnant due to Narendra Modi’s blind pursuit of populism and political vendetta but the momentum set by the Congress rule is hard to be impeded so soon.

 

Love it, hate it but even a cynic would vouch for the revolutionary transformation brought about by the sagacious policies, programmes and the welfare schemes launched, carried and implemented assiduously by the Congress government.

 

Naturally then, the visions, concern and compassion for the children of lesser gods, as the poor and downtrodden people of the country are often derisively addressed to, have been finding expressions from time to time through innumerable welfare schemes, poverty eradications programmes, National Rural Healthcare Mission, Minimum rural employment guaranteed programme, social upliftment, educational and developmental programmes etc..Etc…

 

There is no denying the fact that the nature and scale of poverty has not been the same as compared to where it stood a few decades back. That there has been a qualitative difference in poverty. It is not that poor class has emerged from nowhere today, but the per capita income and standard of living have made a discernible difference from the past it all most because of the Congress party’s dogged pursuit of lifting the poor, the downtrodden and the lab our class through proactive involvement in formulating policies and overseeing their implementation so that the benefits reach where it was intended to.

 

No one can erase it from the memory of any Indian that it was none other than late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was the first to recognize the political might wielded by the poor yet languishing at the bottom of so literally moved by the prevalence of poverty in this country that she decided to showcase poverty as the most lethal political weapon during the 1971 General Election while giving the clarion call of  ‘Garibi Mitao. And the poor were turned into a smith carrying the key to power.

 

The result is known to the whole country. Congress with unflinching support of the poor of India routed the rivals without trace. Indira came out victorious in flying colours. But her slogan of Garibi Mitao touched millions of people from all classes, poor, middle class and intelligentsia. Most significantly, it went on to make a deep dent in the bastion of the leftists as well as deflated the remnants of socalled socialist.

 

Since then, inclusion of poor became the guiding deity to be installed in the middle by every political party in each as the most essential ritual in every political discourse particularly when elections came into sight. It has been the most outstanding political achievement of the Congress for having established a revolutionary trend in this country. There has incessant the poor every political party has been vociferously As a sequel, political bosses vouch for hot cake eradicate the poverty poor as the most desired prized in the mainstream of electoral middle of eradication under the guaranteed employment programme for the unskilled labourers schemes of society who have been languishing on the skid rowed In the last 15 years, India has seen the adoption of an “alphabet soup” of ambitious national anti-poverty programmes: a rural connectivity scheme (PMGSY), a universal primary schooling initiative (SSA), a rural health initiative (NRHM), a rural electrification scheme (RGGVY), a rural employment guarantee (NREGA), a food subsidy (Food Security Act), and a new digital infrastructure for transferring benefits directly to the poor (UID).

 

The experience of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) suggests that effective anti-poverty programmes play an increasingly pivotal role in Indian elections and therefore no government could ever muster courage to flirt with it in any form or substance. NREGA is invincible. It is here to stay- stay for a good time lag.

 

Programmes like NREGA represent a quiet revolution in India’s poverty alleviation strategy. India has for decades challenged the belief of political scientists that in democracies politicians cater to the voters who are most numerous: despite democratic institutions, and a predominantly poor electorate, effective public policies that benefit the poor have never been a priority for India’s ruling political elite.

 

The landslide re-election of the Congress-led UPA in 2009 was, at the time, widely attributed to the adoption of NREGA. In light of the Congress party’s recent defeats in state assembly elections, some question whether antipoverty programmes have really benefited the Congress party in elections. However, my own research, based on a comparison of Congress’s election performance across state assembly constituencies during the early stages of the programme’s implementation (when some districts had received the programme while others had not), suggests that NREGA did cause a large increase in Congress’s vote share in state elections. This increase, by as much as 4 percentage points, makes a big difference in India’s closely fought elections.

 

One of the interesting results of the research conducted by prestigious institution like the Centre for Advanced Studies, Pennsylvania on NREGA is that during periods of economic hardship, such as droughts, non-Congress state-level ruling parties were also able to benefit in elections from NREGA. This suggests that there is room for opposing parties to compete over credit for the same anti-poverty programmes. The fact that Congress politicians routinely advertise NREGA in campaign speeches suggests that they recognize the electoral benefits as well. If the UPA loses in the upcoming elections, it will be because it has alienated voters on so many other issues. People had serious reservations as to the fate of such a revolutionary scheme that virtually altered the complexion of rural living in a tangible way. Talks were quite rife before the country went on the eve of the General Elections in 2014. A large chunk of concerned Indians were agog with speculation as to what would happen to the NREGA if the BJP-led NDA, came to power.

 

But there is something which has far reaching positive consequences involving the future of the real India that resides in the country that no government no matter how powerful, mighty or in absolute majority it might be, could ever attempt that as a cynical political ploys. The best example of it can be adduced from the record that some of the states, which have implemented NREGA with full honestly are those ruled by the BJP like Chhattisgarh.

 

This has happened despite the fact that the BJP goes berserk in criticizing NREGA by dubbing it as political largesse, doled out with a purpose to extract political benefits and that it has been out of the public eye. But truths can’t be belief by rhetoric and the BJP politicians have come to realize the substance in this dictum. These governments recognised that it is better to earn credit in the eyes of poor voters for implementing anti-poverty programmes well than to be perceived as obstructionists. In power nationally, the BJP is unlikely to roll back NREGA, at least openly. Similarly, issuing Below Poverty Line Card scheme was a landmark policy decision taken by the Congress government started with a sacred intention of ridding corruption from the Public Distribution System while at the same time ensuring that all benefits granted by the government is safely availed by the people reeling under abject poverty. Below Poverty Line card, traditionally the main point of access to government welfare schemes. It has been a sordid saga of self-serving unscrupulous elements of the society who, who mushroomed and looted the benefits even before they could reach the poor men mostly because of the utter insensitiveness of non-Congress governments ruling the states under whose jurisdiction this sector fell.

 

According to multiple surveys, as many as half of India’s poor households failed to even get the BPL card. This is unsurprising; village studies show that the allocation of BPL cards by panchayats is highly discretionary, as much a tool for corruption and political influence as poverty alleviation. Compare this to NREGA, the most important of the new flagship schemes. Unlike the means-tested BPL card, NREGA is universalistic by design, promising up to one hundred days of employment to any rural household that requests it.

 

NREGA revolution

 

In a path breaking move, the Congress-led UPA government launched a revolutionary mission of guaranteeing employment to the poor youths in the rural parts for a fixed period, during which mostly the landless labourers sit idle. The idea was to gainfully engage an army of workless youths during lean period so that they earn some money and fend for themselves NREGA has been relatively successful in reaching the rural poor. Why is India seeing relatively effective well-funded, universalistic anti-poverty programmes like NREGA now after so many decades of narrow programmes with little political backbone? Some attribute the shift to the pressure of newly mobilised political outsiders, including an activist judiciary and civil society groups.

 

This is half of the story. It does not explain the other half, the extraordinary receptiveness of ruling parties to these new programmes. After all, where have the good intentions been for so long? But by the fact that political parties are learning that effective anti-poverty programmes can help to win elections. It is also sometimes forgotten that the BJP has adopted large-scale national anti-poverty programmes itself when it was in power: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the universal primary schooling initiative, and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), a rural connectivity scheme. Both were taken fully on board by the UPA when it came into power. Same has been the case with the Food Security Act.

 

In November 2013, in campaign rallies in the state of Chhattisgarh, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi claimed credit for the national enactment of the Food Security Act, while BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi claimed credit on behalf of his party for originating the idea of food security with a state-level law in Chhattisgarh that preceded the national law. Indian politics appears to be entering a phase in which rival parties compete over who has done more for the poor with government programmes.

 

India is not alone in experiencing a transition toward large, universalistic anti-poverty programmes. A similar transition took place about a decade earlier in Latin American countries such as Mexico and Brazil. One of the striking features of these cases is that when a BJP comes into power, it does not roll back existing anti-poverty programmes. Instead, it seeks to claim credit for existing programmes and propose its own variants Where have these programs come from? And with elections on the way, where are they headed? The experience of the Congress government’s most important flagship scheme, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), launched with missionary zeal during the UPA 1 government, suggests that effective anti-poverty programs play an increasingly important role in India, the importance of which no Congress government could afford to ignore or down play. That is the reason why despite initial spluttering Modi government could not gather courage to even tamper with it, let alone trying to snap it even partially like it did with the Planning commission. And it is corroborated by the fact MNREGA is still there in the main shape where it is therefore to stay forever.

 

Most importantly, NREGA has been widely successful in reaching the rural poor. Several independent program evaluation studies find that NREGA has increased earnings and wages of poor rural workers, one of the reasons that agricultural employers have lobbied to curtail the program.

 

Why is India seeing relatively effective, well-funded, universalistic anti-poverty programs like NREGA now after so many decades of narrow programs with little political backbone? Some attribute the shift to the pressure of newly mobilized political outsiders, including an activist judiciary and civil society groups. This is half of the story. It does not explain the other half, the extraordinary receptiveness of ruling parties to these new programs, embodied in the Congress party’s decision to create the National Advisory Council, a political advisory body composed of civil society activists, which played an important role in the passage of NREGA in 2005. Take the infamous Below Poverty Line card, traditionally the main point of access to government welfare schemes. According to multiple surveys, as many as half of India’s poor households do not even possess a BPL card.

 

This is unsurprising; village studies show that the allocation of BPL cards by panchayats is highly discretionary, as much a tool for corruption and political influence as poverty alleviation. But it is the state governments that failed miserably and let the voracious brokers have a field day and stash away money meant for the poor in lieu of procuring them the BPL card. It was state government’s responsibility to ensure honesty after all it was a service to humanity, feeding those who sleep empty abdomen. But no one can stop people suffering from inborn lust for cruel dishonesty. incurable The shift is best explained not by the good intentions of politicians – after all, where had the good intentions been for so long? – But by the fact that political parties are learning that effective anti-poverty programs can help to win elections.

 

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s disastrous “India Shining” campaign in 2004 illustrated the political hazards of appearing to be unresponsive to rural poverty, a lesson Congress leaders seemed to take on board when they swiftly pursued their campaign promise of a rural employment guarantee upon taking power. The landslide reelection of the Congress-led UPA in 2009 was, at the time, widely attributed to the adoption of NREGA.

 

In light of the Congress party’s recent defeats in state assembly elections, some question whether anti-poverty programs have really benefited the Congress party in elections. However, as per a research based on a comparison of Congress’s election performance across state assembly constituencies during the early stages of the program’s implementation (when some districts had received the program while others had not), suggests that NREGA did cause a large increase in Congress’s vote share in state elections. This increase, by as much as 4 percentage points makes a big difference in India’s closely fought elections.

 

The fact that Congress politicians routinely advertise NREGA in campaign speeches suggests that they recognize the electoral benefits as well, though arguably they have made a strategic mistake in not being aggressive enough about claiming credit. If the UPA loses in upcoming elections, it will be because it has alienated voters on so many other issues.

 

These governments recognized that it is better to earn credit in the eyes of poor voters for implementing anti-poverty programs well than to be perceived as obstructionists. In power nationally, the BJP is unlikely to roll back NREGA, at least openly. It is also sometimes forgotten that the BJP has adopted large-scale national anti-poverty programs itself when it was in power: Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA), the universal primary schooling initiative, and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), a rural connectivity scheme. Both were taken fully on board by the UPA when it came into power.

 

Fortunately, one of the most distinguished features of the Indian political class has been that no matter which party comes to power, it does not try to roll back any widely popular existing anti-poverty programme. Instead, under the influence of instinctive proclivity it seeks to stake claim for credit for existing programs and even may go for proposing its own variants because this is what sells in multiparty elections in developing countries with predominantly poor voter bases. Call it populism or call it democratic responsiveness, but thanks to electoral incentives, the trend of ambitious national anti-poverty programs like NREGA is, in the long run, here to stay in India, regardless of who rules next.

 

The legacy of the Congress in arena of its missionary zeal in service of poor downtrodden, and those living sequestered life or the untouchables managing to keep both ends meet living on the skid row of villages, will remain entrenched deep in the psyche of Indians for generations to come. Jai Hind.