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Wishful Thinking

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As the Lok Sabha elections approach, Indian politics is rapidly acquiring an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ quality. If this disassociation from reality continues, Indians will have to be particularly careful they do not fall into the kind of trap populism has taken Venezuela under Hugo Chavez and the current, Nicolas Maduro. The only solace is that India’s diversity acts as a shield against ‘catch-all’ politics.
Rahul Gandhi’s announcement, out of the blue, of his intent to provide a minimum income guarantee if Congress is voted to power, is one example of where desperation is taking his politics. The Congress suspected, based on certain reports, that the BJP was planning some such scheme and was likely to make it part of the upcoming Union Budget. It rightly demanded that, going by convention, the Budget should not contain anything populist. It seems that it did not trust the BJP to comply and the attempt now has been made to pre-empt the move by making an announcement of its own. The party was also probably panicked by the EWS reservation passed by the government, recently, and its supposed impact on the upper castes.
Can it be said with any confidence that such announcements influence voting behaviour particularly in this better informed age? After all, in this era of widely available news outlets on TV, and the social media, almost everyone gets to hear both sides of an argument to the point of exhaustion. It is possible, if one is not absolutely committed, to understand the rights and wrongs of any subject. Hopefully, the way voting takes place in the upcoming elections will help discourage such politics.
Rahul Gandhi has been made to believe that his announcement on farm loan waivers was responsible for the recent victories of the Congress. There is no real data to justify this. Far more probable is the fact that the people were just bored with governments that had outlived their popularity over fifteen years of rule. In fact, the upcoming budgets of these states will reveal how much exactly could be done on waiving farm loans, and how, exposing Rahul’s claim that there is no lack of funds. Forget the long term impact, the people will learn the cost of such poorly thought out populism uncomfortably soon.
As for the proposed Minimum Income Guarantee, Rahul should know that the jury has been out globally on Universal Basic Income for a long time. India’s particular need is to deliver on civic amenities and infrastructure before it can splurge on utopian schemes more akin to the bogus welfare state that Venezuela has become. At least, Venezuela had oil to justify its delusions.