PRIME MINISTER and RSS veteran Narendra Modi has fought many a political battle in his long career but on the eve of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he is facing a big onslaught from the Opposition parties, especially the president of the rejuvenated Congress Party Rahul Gandhi on the major economic issues facing the nation, mainly the poor including those living in rural areas.
Roughly ten weeks before the crucial Lok Sabha poll begins, the Prime Minister, through his interim budget, presented via acting Finance Minister Piyush Goyal, has stolen some of the thunder posed by the Congress president through his declaration of a minimum income support programme for the rural and urban poor if the Congress is elected to power. The announcement had an electrifying impact on the poor as the minimum income programme has the potential to improve the living standard of the poor at one stroke and it could very well contribute to the rejuvenation of the rural economy.
The Rahul impact has now been partially neutralised by the announcement in the interim budget for 2019-20 by the officiating Finance Minister Piyush Goyal that the Modi government will implement the minimum pension programme for the unorganised workers at Rs. 3,000 per month.
This is accompanied by a slew of programmes for the poor and marginal farmers for enhancing their income. All these programmes together can take care of the minimum income requirements of the 12 crore farmers both small and marginal as also the urban poor.
Rahul Gandhi’s programme did not mention about the amount but the Congress sources mentioned of a figure between Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000 per month. But here Modi’s budget has made a composite impact on the poor below the poverty line as also the unorganised workers equaling or even surpassing that discussed amount of Rahul Gandhi.
One can see it as a game of one-upmanship in terms of offering doles but for the poor, this means a lot in their present state of deprivation. Modi’s advantage is that he is in power and he will do it if he remains in power, while for Rahul, he has to come to power for implementing his programme and that also depends on the post election scenario of respective strength of the non-BJP parties.
There is no denying the fact that Narendra Modi’s advisers have done some solid spadework to tackle the issue of farmers distress in order to make a turnaround in the rural areas which are presently seething with discontent. They must have got hold of the draft of the report prepared by the Congress think tank and incorporated some measures to suit their immediate political interests.
The Karnataka scheme of Krishi Bandhu was a success and it helped the TRS to ensure a handsome win in the recent assembly elections. The BJP government has adopted some points from the Karnataka scheme and focused more on cash transfers.
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The Modi government is implementing such schemes with immediate effect leading to the process of cash transfer. The budget is for 2019-20 and this is interim budget but it is difficult politically for the Congress to oppose cash transfers with effect from December 2018 because that will antagonize the farmers. The Congress is thus in a catch 22 situation. The cunning PM has put them in a defensive position on this farm package issue.
The budget has provided Rs. 75,000 crore in 2019-20 for the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi to extend direct support at the rate of Rs. 6,000 per year to the farmer families having cultivable land up to two hectares. This is hardly worth talking home about.
But in order to make an immediate political impact on the farmers, the budget has provided Rs. 20,000 crore in the revised estimates for the current fiscal 2018-19 so that the payments are given within next two months before Match 31 next. Thus by making the scheme operative from December 1, 2018 and organising payments by March 31, 2019 for the period of four months, the farmers will be under the spell of cash support which might bring good political capital to the BJP.
The Congress can still fight back this interim budget fall out if the Party leadership, after doing away with its inflated ego following victories in the three assembly elections, sit down with the anti-BJP opposition parties and work out both viable seat adjustments and a solid common minimum programme.
Congress has to aggressively market its programme for jobs and farming community and explain its long-term benefits. Modi was in backfoot for some weeks since the assembly elections were out. Now he has struck back with his interim budget.
It is up to Rahul Gandhi and his opposition parties to take up the challenge in right earnest and fight him on policies. The battle is now tougher and Rahul and the opposition have to be prepared for it in the next three months before Lok Sabha polls. (IPA)