Will key issues be tackled?

Poll & Young Generation

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The ensuing General elections have generated much hype as is normally the case before every election. This time around, these polls significantly shall be dominated by an alarmingly young electorate i.e. half our population which is under 25 years. It is thus quite natural that the political party which is successful in wooing this demographic on various social media platforms will walk away with the biggest slice of the cake.
However, by far, the most disturbing aspect of the hard sell is the manner in which Kargil, Pulwama and Balakot are being drawn into the debate to score political points, with opposite sides pointing fingers, accusing or defending the issue. Though the after effect of the surgical strikes has given a lead to the party in power, pressing social and economic problems are also intrinsically related to the future of the youth. The high sounding promises of the political leaders may not be enough to tackle the emerging problems that are sure to surface in the coming years.
The ‘chowkidar’ theme apparently has hit the top of the charts with attack and counter attacks. If Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra seek to project Prime Minister as “chowkidar chor hai’, Narendra Modi has countered it with ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ (I am a watchman too) campaign. New Congress entrant, Hardik Patel, has joined in and launched a tit-for-tat response in Ahmedabad. The Patidar leader prefixed his Twitter handle with ‘berojgar’ (jobless) by Modi and other ministers since mid-March in which they added the word ‘Chowkidar’ before their names on Twitter.
While the educated people are aware of the problems facing the aam janata, most of the young electorate is not quite aware of the seriousness of the issues. Though jobless growth has been echoed time and time as also promises of employment generation, it is indeed quite difficult to presume how the next government would tackle the problem in the wake of efforts by business groups to resort to increased mechanisation, not just to achieve economies of scale but also to avoid labour problems.
In fact, a recent survey conducted by two NGOs has found that jobs, health care and law and order are top priorities for Uttar Pradesh. The Association for Democratic Reforms and Uttar Pradesh Election Watch conducted the survey for 80 UP seats and released the same in Lucknow. Another survey by the same organisation among 2.7 lakh citizens, who are 18 and above years, found that better employment opportunities is the topmost priority of voters in the country, barring some urban constituencies. This survey, conducted between October and December 2018 across 534 constituencies, also asked voters to rate the government’s performance, which was deemed ‘below average’ – a score less than 3 on a scale of 5 — on all listed priorities. The worst performance was on encroachment of land, training for jobs and eradication of corruption.
The other important area is the neglect of the health sector by successive governments. Public health expenditure remained constant over the years in most States and is even less than the national average of 1.2 per cent of GDP, making India one of the biggest private spenders on health among the low-income countries. India’s expenditure on health in 2015-16 was a mere Rs 140,054 crore. The National Health Policy 2002 had set a target of 2 % of GDP and the Centre’s 12th Five Year Plan set the target at 1.87% of GDP by March 2017 and reports suggest that this has not been achieved.
In this distressing scenario, it is good to hear that the Congress President Rahul Gandhi announced that if elected to power, health would be accorded the status of a Fundamental Right and adequate resources made available to the sector. Though it is difficult to believe that adequate resources would be generated towards health and sanitation, considering the huge demands for having at least one functional wellness centre in every block of the country, the intent itself speaks volumes as the sector has remained neglected over the years.
A significant announcement of the Congress was providing Rs 6000 a month to 20 per cent of India’s poorest households, the bill for which is expected to be around Rs 3.6 lakh crore or 1.8 per cent of GDP. A beneficiary family’s annual entitlement would be Rs 72,000 and Rahul Gandhi called it the “final assault” on poverty, benefitting 50 million poorest families. This would be a much bigger guarantee of income than MNREGA, which promises 100 days per year but has actually delivered 40-45 days on average. Also the income would not be conditioned on getting work.
In the social front, during the last five years, we have seen the Sangh Parivar and assorted Hindutvavadi outfits create Hindu equivalents for blasphemy and apostasy. The cow protection movement is a way of defining dietary practices and occupations of non-Hindus that deviate from what’s allowed by Hindu orthodoxy, punishable both by law and vigilante violence. In the same way, Pakistan’s minorities are besieged by allegations of blasphemy, Muslims and Dalits are bullied, harassed, imprisoned on charge of eating beef, trading in cows or engaged in similar other work.
Added to this has been the vigilante murders of nominally Hindu intellectuals like Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, Gauri Lankesh which mimic the machete murder of Muslim rationalists in Bangladesh and the assassination of secular politicians like Salman Tasser in Pakistan. These may be prominent names but many other lost their lives or were seriously injured in trying to resist government’s unjust policies.
The social and economic issues are indeed quite grave and a section of experts feel that if the Modi government is re-elected, the secular spirit as also the tradition and heritage of the country may be lost. But there is another section who feels, and not without justification, that the NDA government may change its focus to economic matters and try at ameliorating the conditions of the rural poor, including farmers.
However, what is essential is that the aggressive Hindutva focus has to be mellowed down as educated Hindus, in most parts of Eastern and Southern India, who are directly or indirectly aligned with institutions like the Ramakrishna Mission do not subscribe to the RSS views on Hindu philosophy. As has been reiterated repeatedly, secular approach is the cornerstone of our thinking and political leaders should not play with religion and false sense of nationalism being a way out to provide productive work to the young generation.
Which party will win the elections will only be evident after the results are out. But in this year when Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth celebrations are being observed, one expects that whichever party is elected would give due emphasis on employment generation as also health and education.
All talk about high rates of growth seem futile as disparity in incomes is widening and benefits are accruing to people in the organised sector, mostly in urban areas, not to speak of big and middle business houses. How long can such pro-rich publicities be allowed to continue? Would it be wrong if all this results in protest — may be violent — by unemployed youth jointly with farmers all over the country?—INFA