Rahul Gandhi's minimum income guarantee scheme has given Congress a head-start in setting India's economic agenda
MIG is good economics. And sustainable. It is also extremely timely after the Modi administration under which farmers, youth and the poor, all have faced deep distress.
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I don't think a week is a long time in politics, it feels like an eternity actually. A year feels like an interminable millennium. Ask that of Rahul Gandhi who became Congress President about a year ago.
Ever since he assumed leadership, the Congress made a spectacular fight-back in Gujarat, overcame attempts of poaching elected legislators in Karnataka by forming a coalition government, and comprehensively subjugated the BJP in three crucial states in the Hindi heartland. The script is racing ahead to a surprise denouement.
We live in fascinating times, unfolding with kaleidoscopic speed by the day. But some things are a constant. On a regular basis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reminds India of the Congress years (a substantial 55), lamenting with melodramatic exaggeration that it has stymied his ability to transform India.
For the last five years, Modi has had a commanding majority in the Lok Sabha, several states under the saffron flag, a stable buoyant world economy, ridiculously low global prices and extremely vociferous cheerleaders in the mainstream media who keep his rhetoric in fifth gear while smothering the woebegone reality of a crumbling economy and a fractured society.
But Modi, who to my mind has proven little but a mammoth disaster, is peeved.
Rahul Gandhi's announcement of a Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) scheme has upturned PM Modi's vision altogether. (Photo: PTI)
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) inherited a growing economy on a strong rebound at 6.4 per cent from the much-maligned UPA 2 in FY 2014. Yet, Modi cribs and complains as petulantly as someone who just served four double faults in a row while serving for a match at a Grand Slam tennis tournament.
Check your serve, my friend, don't blame your rival.
But now, with Rahul Gandhi announcing publicly that the party will ensure a Minimum Income Guarantee ( MIG) for the poor post-General Elections of 2019, it has taken the wind out of the sails of Modi's frantic attempt to do plastic surgery on his established popular image of leading a 'suit-boot ki sarkar' (government of affluent Big Business), also, an allegory for crony capitalism.
Hardly surprising that a rattled BJP immediately retorted with the predictable accusation that it was a jumla (a slogan), the latter word, ironically, being Modi's everlasting legacy to the political lexicon of India.
The BJP is wrong. The Congress party has done methodical homework of the math and will pass the examination with flying colors, delivering a high-five. For Modi, it is a face-palm moment.
Rahul Gandhi has given his party a crucial head-start in setting the economic agenda.
Has PM Modi thought much about them? (Photo: Altaf Qadri/AP)
In Davos about a week earlier, where the global lodestars of multinational businesses converge, accompanied by an entourage of whiz-kid stock market analysts, policy makers, investment bankers, etc., the big elephant in the room was whether capitalism itself is facing an acid test. A year ago, they were deeply anxious about the rising threat of income inequalities in the western world and the populist backlash that followed. 'Responsible capitalism' was on everyone's mind in the snow-capped El Dorado of the rich and famous.
In the Hindi heartland state of Chhattisgarh, a state that has seen the dangerous proliferation of Maoist violence, rampant state oppression, corruption in the allocation of public assets and a miasma of economic malaise, Rahul Gandhi was practicing responsible capitalism. He was walking the talk.
The MIG (in the absence of an official acronym that can be formulated only later) is a watershed moment for those who live at the bottom of India's socio-economic pyramid. It is what India needs.
In contrast, Modi made his intentions palpable from the outset when his government reportedly tried to sabotage the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill, one that his own party had supported in Parliament. It was a manifestation of his policy thrust; serenade large businesses with impunity in the hope that they will make sizeable investments which will create jobs, capital formation and GDP growth.
It was the Jagdish Bhagwati-Arvind Panagriya school of thought that overwhelmed his thinking, but one which even the USA (the world's richest nation by far) was rejecting.
Once, Modi had sardonically smirked in Parliament, mocking the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MNREGA) as living testimony of UPA's embarrassing gaffes. He has subsequently boasted of increasing outlays on the scheme. The absence of vision was conspicuous.
With India's growth rate at a lusterless 7.2 per cent, Modi is being forced to rework his belief in free market-driven progress. (Photo: PTI)
The fact is that hyper-globalisation is facing a populist backlash and has boomeranged, leading to the rise of nationalistic authoritarian leaders all over the world. Modi is one such leader who rode to power on the same wave, mocking the cosmopolitan elite of Lutyens Delhi, while actually, it would seem, canoodling with the same.
With India's growth rate at a lusterless 7.2 per cent, Modi is being forced to rework his myopic belief that India needs free-market fundamentalism to reach double-digit growth. Slowbalisation is how The Economist has termed the downside effects of flawed capitalism, leading to trade wars and protectionist barriers.
Modi looks confused now. His desperate outreach in the December days of his government to the poor of India is a belated admission that he never quite fathomed policy-making or understood his own country. His demonetisation was apocalyptic economic suicide.
Today, farmers are disillusioned, jobless youth are disenchanted. The poor are starving to death.
Enter Rahul Gandhi.
MIG is good economics. And sustainable.
Modi, who is obsessed with electioneering, astonishingly missed that. He may have missed the bus altogether.