Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How Pro-poor is BJP government?

The BJP fought the 16th general elections on ‘development agenda’, so it claims yet it was obvious that communalism and anti-Muslim rhetoric was the flipside to the landslide.  The electoral slogans postured the middleclass who were craving for more and faster development as if it can be reaped from standing rice fields.  Development has to happen first before its benefits are realised, and it is a tough and long process.  However, while the urban middleclass was enamoured with BJP’s overtures, the catalytic was the communal undertones expressed in cryptic double meaning statements, body language including colour codes, surrogate sibling overtures (of VHP, Bhajrangdal and other ilks), and engineered communal riots. Sociological and applied economic analysis have supported a trend that religious assertion and glorification of social identity increases as the income levels increase.

The UPA was seen by this influential electorate as more pro-poor and pro-minority.  It is another essay as to why the Indian middleclass postures are anti-poor and anti-minority. Suffice to stress that the newly elected government cannot take such a stand not only due to the compulsions of constitutional guarantees but also demands of the development strategy itself.  Given the history of deep and extensive poverty incidence in India, the BJP government must follow and improve the well laid out policies of poverty alleviation, religious and social inclusion.

BJP’s good luck was the segmented voting behaviour in India. BJP won 280 or 51% of MPs with only 31% of popular votes. In many respects this is the fallacy of India’s democratic system. Although now that BJP is at the helm of power along with ultra-fringe parties such as the Shiva Sena; it cannot absolve itself from addressing the issue of poverty and inclusiveness head on.

The electoral victory speeches, the annual budget presentation and the customary Independence Day speech of the Prime Minister all taken together do highlight the vision of the BJP government with respect to poverty and inclusion. The importance of having toilets near homes cannot be overemphasised, yet culturally its usage is easy said than done. Similarly providing bank accounts to all in rural and urban area is a noble idea to effect inclusiveness, but such accounts are intended to distribute funds not accumulate savings and turn it in to investments.

However, so far there is a lack of emphasis on provisioning of quality and affordable health care to the masses, improving quality of elementary education. Extending educational infrastructure to minority (Muslim) concentrated areas is absolutely essential to achieve the dream of universal literacy. Given the dominance of agriculture, aspects of land reforms and property rights are not even mentioned let alone make it a priority which is essential to augment investments in agricultural and improve productivity.  There has to be clear emphasis on mechanism to improve the MG-NREGA and implementation of the Food Security Act requires greater government attention than the development rhetoric.  Often the deep excluded geographic areas are even excluded in the review and evaluation exercises - most of the government initiated and controlled studies do not meet the methodological standards of the modern evaluation and assessments.

Shooting down the planning commission and replacing it with a committee of economist will centralize the power in to bureaucracy and it a signal towards non-participation of state in nation building. The Planning Commission was amenable to interacting with domestic researchers and ideas carried forward from multi-lateral institutions. The Bhagwatis and Panagariays of this world I am afraid are too trigger happy to shoot down the equity polices of India. It is time that the new government must review immediately the progress in the millennium development goals, human development and poverty alleviation. Further such review and assessment must be undertaken at the level of the district and states.

It is therefore, essential that the BJP government understand unique and intricate relationship between poverty alleviation, inclusiveness and development and ensure that the future social and economic transformation must happen through the process of education and cultural change. In this context two noteworthy situations that inevitably evolve needs to be highlighted. Sectoral (economic) imbalances favouring the modern technology and large manufacturing will receive a much needed boost. Yet what will happen is that millions of workforce trapped in low productive sectors such as farming, traditional artisanship, small business and manual labour would face an extraordinary risk, should the new government ignore their plight in its immediate policy formulation. Secondly, the fiscal pressure and also some ideological difference may promote frugality of social services and social subsidies. This will be an immediate threat to millions of the vulnerable and deprived communities who will face increase in hunger, deepening of poverty amongst selected social groups and geographic areas as well as continued health vulnerabilities.

As a long term strategy the BJP government must initiate immediate actions to ensure inclusive decision making at the local levels namely the panchayats and town-municipalities with nominations of the excluded groups such as the minorities. Envisioning an ‘equal opportunity policy’ and establishing an independent ‘Equal Opportunity Commission’ will go a long way in dispassionately addressing the issue of exclusion in India. 

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