CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

“Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex” - Karl Marx

OPINION


NYAY Providing Basic Income Fulfills the Vision of Mahatma Gandhi and Changed Election Narrative Based on Basic Issues


In early 1970s late Shrimati Indira Gandhi had made Garibi Hato, remove poverty, the central plank of her election campaign. Even as there was no serious economic assessment of that  campaign to eliminate poverty it made a big impact on the minds of people, fired their imagination and mobilized them to extend their electoral support to her. She as Prime Minister of India pursued it as part of her governance strategy and policies were formulated and implemented to address the challenges of poverty eradication. She looked at the issue of poverty not only in terms of economic and income deprivation but also in terms of environmental issue when she said in the first UN Conference on Human Environment in 1972 that poverty is the worst source of pollution. That one line of her speech became the folklore of the environmental movement and it continues to reverberate in the worldwide campaign for sustainable development.  Mr. Maurice Strong who was the Chairman of that UN Conference acknowledged that it was because of Indira Gandhi that the agenda of the Conference was changed to look at poverty not only from the perspective of development and industrialization but also from the perspective of deprivation and poverty. By looking at poverty both from the economic and environmental points of view Indira Gandhi set the tone for sustainable development both at the national and global level. What she did in 1970s is now affirmed by the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations which has an ambitious goal of reducing poverty to a very low level to achieve the desired objective of material development and environmental preservation. It was during her tenure as Prime Minister of India that for the first time a separate longish para on Environment was put in the fourth five year plan document in 1970 in the chapter on Long Term Perspective. For the first time in the history of planning in post independent India the issue of environment figured in any plan document and it was considered as part of long term perspective to pursue the goals of planned development of which poverty eradication became an integral component.

In fact a lot has been done to reduce poverty which has been brought down to a considerable level.  It was thought that there would be unacceptable levels of hunger and poverty in India with massive population growth over taking agricultural productivity. India stood as a standing refutation of prediction of Malthus who had said that "short-term gains in living standards would inevitably be undermined as human population growth outstripped food production, and thereby drive living standards back toward subsistence." Instead of living standards driving back to subsistence people of India particularly the vast masses of poor among them have been uplifted from poverty.

The time has now come to launch the crucial attack on it for its elimination. Indeed the final attack on poverty as envisaged by President of the Indian National Congress Shri Rahul Gandhi in his proposed  basic income scheme  called Nyunatam Aay Yojana (NYAY) which when rendered to English would mean justice is a bold measure. It aims at ensuring justice by guaranteeing at least Rupees 72, 000 income support per annum to each family belonging to 20 % of the poorest families of India and the amount would be credited to their accounts directly. The implementation  of this historic proposal without adversely impacting the fiscal discipline and doing away with some of the existing plans remains its redeeming feature. By ensuring a minimum income of ₹6,000 per month to  one fifth of the poorest families of the country on a sustained basis it heralds a new era for the State to give stimulus for economic empowerment of the poorest sections of society which  apart from financially  empowering them would take forward the cause of economic growth. Poverty reduction is thus a major factor for sustaining economic buoyancy and expanding growth.

NYAY built a national narrative around basic issues of people

This bold declaration of  Shri Rahul Gandhi after due deliberation with seasoned economists suddenly and irreversibly shifted the attention of all political parties to real issues of people such as food, income and human security when elections are being conducted across the country to choose representatives to the Lok Sabha, the lower House of the Parliament of India. Such shifting of attention to real issues is refreshing and heartening particularly in the context of the ruling dispensation at the centre pushing hard to put the airstrike at Balakote in Pakistan, acquisition of capability to develop anti satellite missile and hyper muscular nationalism at the centre stage of national discourse to determine voting pattern in its favour.

NYAY is a stimulus for poverty eradication and economic growth

The guaranteeing of income to the poor is not only a decisive step against poverty eradication but also constitutes a sure measure for increasing purchasing power of the most humble citizens. Such new found purchasing power would empower them  to buy more and their ability to augment their consumption   would be a fillip to our economic growth which is getting retarded because of low investment on account of the policies followed by the present union Government during the last five years.

Poverty Free India is an Economic Possibility

Shri Rahul Gandhi's assertion that  "we will wipe out poverty from the country," and  "It is not acceptable to the Congress that there are poor people in the 21st century" is evocative of the founder of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh Shri Muhammd Yunus and nobel laureate who while accepting the Nobel Prize for peace in 2006 had said "I firmly believe that we can create a poverty-free world if we collectively believe in it. In a poverty-free world, the only place you would be able to see poverty is in the poverty museums". Indeed the NYAY basic income scheme prepared to completely wipe out poverty is a bold and daring step for food and human security which is the foundation of national security and such a scheme can enable the country to put poverty in the museums by creating a poverty free world.

It is fascinating to note that the strong prospect of abolishing poverty entirely from the world has been articulated by economists in their scholarly and illuminating analysis. Jeffery Sachs in his book "The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for our Time" wrote in 2005 that eradication of poverty is a doable thing during our own generation. He quoted illustrious economist Keynes who passionately advocated for   State intervention for creating employment opportunities and generating demand. According to Keynes chronic poverty could be eradicated during the time of his grand children, But Sachs argued that elimination of poverty elimination of poverty is an economic possibility of our time.

In twenty first century India at least there is a persuasive argument that we can put an end to poverty during our own time. Rahul Gandhi by saying that the scheme of basic income of Rupees 72, 000 per annum for the twenty per cent of the poorest families is a final assault on poverty is turning himself to what founder of the Grameen Bank and Jeffery Sachs had outlined in terms of economic possibilities to eradicate poverty. His exposition that it is doable and without causing fiscal crisis brings out the economic possibilities of putting an end to poverty. In this age of growing income inequality the measure for guaranteeing basic income to the poorest sections is a step in the direction of bridging the gap between haves and have nots. When rural and agrarian distress is multiplying and unemployment rate is the highest in the last forty five years, the very idea of basic income to the poverty stricken people will go a long way in addressing the challenges of human security, without which there is bound to be chaos, disorder and violence in society.

NYAY fulfills the vision of Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi had said that even God would not dare to appear before a poor and hungry man except in the form of food or wages. The  declaration of basic income by Shri Rahul Gandhi is in tune with Mahatma Gandhi's vision of  reaching out to people with economic resources. The scheme is also in tune with Constructive Programme of Gandhiji authored in 1941. It contained a point Economic Equality. which Gandhi described as "master key to non-violent independence." After seven decades of independence we are witnessing rising levels of inequality of income which combined with poverty is making lives of poorer sections of society miserable. The recent Oxfam report on inequality in the context of India brought out disturbing facts to the public domain and stated :

"1) India added 17 new billionaires last year, raising the number to 101 billionaires,

2) Indian billionaires' wealth increased by INR 4891 billion —from INR 15,778 billion to over INR 20,676 billion. INR 4891 billion is sufficient to finance 85 per cent of the all states' budget on Health and Education,

3)Between 2018 till 2022, India is estimated to produce 70 new millionaires every day and

4) Number of billionaires has increased from only 9 in 2000 to 101 in 2017" 

It is educative to note that Mahatma Gandhi had cautioned about creation of a society which gave importance to the creation of millionaires. He had said that a well ordered society would be known not for producing millionaires but for eradicating poverty and hunger. So if the Oxfam report says that production of millionaires and billionaires in Indian society and concentration of wealth in their hands is a shocking fact then it means that Indian society is not a well ordered society and is replete with many fault lines which can be explosive on account of rising levels of inequality. In Gandhi  himself had warned that "A violent and bloody revolution is a certainty one day unless there is a voluntary abdication of riches and the power that riches give and sharing them for the common good." He very sharply observed that "Working for economic equality means abolishing the eternal conflict between capital and labour. It means the levelling down of the few rich in whose hands is concentrated the bulk of the nation's wealth on the one hand, and the levelling up of the semi- starved naked millions on the other. A non-violent system of Government is clearly an impossibility so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persists." The persistence of wide gulf between haves and have nots in India which the Oxfam Report brings out has produced many forms of violence and strained social harmony.

Internationally acclaimed  thinkers and economists have published monumental books on Inequality depicting the widening gulf between common people and a small section of the rich and wealthy and the danger it posed to social stability and harmony. In the  book "Capital in Twenty First Century" its author Thomas Pickety very graphically analysed the alarming levels of inequality in the world. Yet another landmark book "The Price of Inequality" written by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz stressed on the point that economic progress and advancement would be arrested due to massive gap in income between the privileged few and majority of People.  An article from the London Guardian on inequality in income described it as a ticking time bomb. In the context of such worldwide  concern  by thinkers and scholars on the issue of inequality it is important to invoke the perspectives of  Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar who very extensively reflected on the issue and stressed on removal of social and economic disparity for creating a healthy social and economic order.  

On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary it is important to recall his words. He had said that real purpose of democracy was to promote welfare of people. If elections remain central to democracy then it should be a mechanism for all political parties to talk about policies for providing opportunities to promote human welfare and ensure economic equality by abolishing poverty and deprivation. Gandhiji had the ambitious aim of wiping every tear from every eye. The first Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had insightfully said that governance would not be worthwhile if did not aim at fulfilling the vision of Gandhi.  

Basic income for poverty stricken people is the most basic issue which must be taken up by political parties and candidates seeking mandate of people. At least Rahul Gandhi's announcement for basic income for the poorest sections of society irrespective of their faith, languages spoken and regions inhabited has set a narrative for discussing real issues of the people as opposed to the attempts of ruling party leaders who want to deviate from it by manufacturing bravado centered around jingoism, hatred for minorities, Dalits and the struggling and suffering humanity. Let the people be mobilised based on basic issues and let these be the driving forces to motivate them to exercise their franchise. 

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