Sunday, June 13, 2021

Hiding failures

By playing politics over air strikes and pivoting its electioneering campaign around terrorism and Pakistan, the BJP is making all out efforts to deflect attention from major issues. The opposition would be falling for the bait by hitting back in the same coin rather than nailing the BJP for its multiple failures with respect to governance, economic crisis and corruption. Terrorism and relations with Pakistan are one of the several issues before the country. They do not define India and they do not impact lives of millions of people like government policies and actions that touch on their daily lives in a myriad ways do. The BJP is cleverly using the Balakot discourse to avoid giving answers about its failures or about how it hopes to make amends. One of the biggest flaws of the BJP’s 5 year rule has been the agricultural crisis and the spiralling woes of the farmers. Though India’s agriculture sector has continuously seen a downward swing since the adoption of the neo-liberal policies in 1990s, the last five years have been particularly worrisome with the government failing to come out with any creative measure to tide over the mounting distress of the farmers. The budgetary support to agriculture has been negligible and essential steps like minimum support price fixation, market access and storage facilities for grains have either not been thought about or exercised in fits and starts. While the government has virtually had poor budgetary allocations for agriculture sector, only at its fag end when faced with elections and prospects of losing the battle of hustings has it conveniently rushed in with an ill-conceived scheme of ‘Pradhan Mantri Kishan Samman Nidhi’ (PM-KISAN), which assures annual income support of Rs 6,000 for the farmers, which works out to Rs 500 a month. The scheme is based on an arbitrary construct to enable farmers to tide over poverty and starvation issues but the amount promised as per this scheme falls short of the poverty line set by the Rangarajan Committee. Also such a scheme, while being a huge drain on the state exchequer has no constructive output. It does not lead to better agricultural yields nor better employment or incomes. Unlike the MNREGA scheme, the PM-KISAN is based on the idea of offering doles which is not a good investment for a country already dealing with a major economic crisis. Needless to point out that the BJP had ridiculed MNREGA, which provides wages and also assures rural development, as an economic drain but later been forced to continue the scheme in the absence of any other viable option. However, despite continuing the scheme, the government has failed to pay up wages in blatant violation of the employment guarantee act. MNREGA workers angry with the BJP’s non-compliance were recently forced to file criminal complaints of fraud against the prime minister with the claim that while over Rs 88,000 crore is required to meet the guaranteed work demand for the financial year, low allocations and subsequent delays in releasing the funds have impacted their economic condition adversely. Unless any political party can offer a better substitute for MNREGA, it is extremely crucial to strengthen the policy, rather than weakening it and risking enhancement of rural distress and adding to the spiral of unemployment. Lack of economic growth and unemployment which has risen to an all time high of 7.2%, the highest in last 45 years, is also a major issue that the BJP has been unable to explain. In its bid to hide its massive failures, it is either not coming out with official data or labouring to juggle figures. A recent report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, however, sadly points out that nearly 11 million people lost their jobs in 2018 due to demonetization and chaotic launch of GST. These besides the increasing cases of corruption including the shocking Rafale deal are much more vital issues that should be part of the election campaigning. The BJP’s failures to give answers cannot be allowed to be papered over with the theatrics of war and terrorism.