Welfare vital, no to corruption  

Karnataka Takeaways

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The Congress has won a victory in Karnataka with an absolute majority, unexpected by most political pundits. The sorry state of affairs in the southern State voted out the BJP, which is reflected in the allegations that have long been in the air that ministers and political leaders were demanding 40% commission to get their bills passed. The Karnataka Contractors’ Association even reminded the voters about this highlighting that the government was deep-rooted in corruption.

Though the Prime Minister Modi campaigned extensively and was in Karnataka almost every week from February to April, around 12 state Cabinet ministers were defeated in the elections. Projecting Modi and ignoring local issues did not bode well for the BJP. Other factors include Hindu consolidation which backfired for the BJP as strong Muslim and Kuruba support helped the Congress along with the two dominant castes Vokkaligas and Lingayats. It became evident the religious mobilisation may face limitations, specially in the educated south, as voters are more concerned about development issues. No less significant has been the effect of the Bharat Jodo Yatra of Rahul Gandhi which gave the party the much-needed momentum as it was held a few months before the polls.

There is clear indication that the so-called Modi magic didn’t work this time. The people it seems have been steadily realising that the government’s pro-rich policies were ignoring the poor and the marginalised sections. Over the years around 70-75% of the wealth generated went to the richest 1 percent while 67-70 million Indians, who comprise the poorest half of the population saw only a 1% increase in their wealth.

The tall claims of achievements and welfare policies by the Modi government notwithstanding, it’s getting quite evident that monopolies have been created through pro-capitalist policies. This apart, the rich are becoming richer and the widening gap comes between the well-off and the poor with each passing day. Plus, the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and violence marked the last few years of Modi government which attracted the attention of the global media.

Thus, the present type of growth followed created massive degrees of inequality in wealth and income distribution and this increased during the past decade. The jobless growth accentuated inequality and the rising inequality has shaped such a pattern of growth that enriches the small consuming class. Despite tall talks of the leaders, economic reforms have failed to transform the lives of majority of Indians. The country slipped considerably in various parameters used to rank nations which include worsening environmental degradation to greater incidence of hunger, to falling human development, to shrinking democratic rights and lack of happiness of the human individual.

The Centre’s tax policies too have deprived the poor of the income support they desperately need to overcome the loss of earnings caused by the pandemic. The government has not provided any substantial direct financial relief, such as cash transfers, to the poor as economists believe that equal distribution of wealth is not on the government’s agenda. To make matters worse, India also doesn’t impose any inheritance tax on the super-rich while inheritances are taxed at 40% in the US and UK, at 50% in South Korea and an average of 15% across OECD members.

The welfare subsidies for the poor by the Modi government hasn’t worked. The Congress stole the limelight in Karnataka when it announced certain measures that include Rs 2000 per month for the female head of a family, 10 kg of rice free to every BPL household, Rs 3000 per month for unemployed degree holders and Rs 1500 for diploma holders for two years, attracting women and youth.

Thus, post Karnataka, there is little hope for the BJP in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where organisationally the party is much weaker than the Congress. Specially in Rajasthan, Gehlot’s performance and hold over the party has attracted attention. More than India assuming the G20 presidentship, local issues in these States are far more important to the electorate as also the economic prospects for the poor and lower income groups.

The young generation, specially the educated youth are getting frustrated. The unemployment and underemployment situation has forced the emerging working class to lose faith in the BJP government. Recently, Prof Asoka Mody of Princeton University and author of ‘India is Broken’observed: “Over the next decade, India will need 200 million more jobs on net to employ those who are of working age and seeking work. But the challenge is virtually insurmountable, considering that the economy failed to add any net new jobs over the past decade, when 7-8 million additional jobseekers were entering the market each year”.

The social and economic parameters do not hold much hope for the future. The rural economy has been stagnating as people cannot be moved from the agricultural sector as manufacturing growth has not been as per expectations. Politicians – not just of the BJP but other fundamentalist parties – have encouraged the politics of hate manifest in violence.

Another distressing fact is that the BJP has not encouraged institutional autonomy of higher educational institutions, curbed the right to dissent and not allowed intellectuals to have a greater say in government and party matters. These tendencies of the government have got the government labelled as being ‘authoritarian democratic’ and not a pluralist democracy.

There must be an alternative strategy that ensures greater employment opportunities for the youth and forcing the business class to use labour in their operations and, if necessary, to expand to labour-intensive sectors. Many economists and the Congress have been talking of a basic income plan for the unemployed which needs to be given a serious thought.

There must be social infrastructure development of rural and backward areas so that the lower income sections can avail of good education and health facilities in the villages and blocks. Social harmony has to prevail in the villages, and this can happen if religion is not tied to politics and there is grass-root development with involvement of the panchayats.

The centralised structure of political and economic governance must yield place to decentralisation. Even in Karnataka, local leaders of the Congress were at the helm of affairs and this facilitated the party to win. The people wanted a stable government and were fed-up with corruption and politicians changing sides, as was the case in the State.

However, it would be a challenging task for the Congress in the ensuing elections in Rajasthan to keep its flock together and say a big no to corruption. Importantly, the State is the first in the country which has implemented the ‘Right to Health’. At the same time, it’s quite obvious that the Congress may look to replicate some of the lessons learnt from the Karnataka campaign.

As some political analysts and Congress leaders have stated recently, the party has learned from its mistakes in the past decade and is bent on inclusive development and better livelihoods for the people. Only time will tell whether the masses would reject Modi’s government and go with the party which promises welfare of the masses. — INFA