In an effort to seize the initiative from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition Congress Party has held out the promise of creating the world’s largest “minimum income scheme” for nearly 250 million poor people if voted to power in general elections beginning in two weeks.
Critics have slammed it as a populist measure to entice voters and questions have been raised on the funding of a scheme estimated to cost $52 billion. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has dismissed it as a “false dream” being shown to the people and pointed out that there are already a number of social welfare schemes for the poor.
But the promise has turned the spotlight on an idea that is getting attention – an income for the country’s lowest economic strata.
“The final assault on poverty has begun,” Rahul Gandhi, the head of the Congress Party, said as he announced his pledge to give 20 percent of India’s poorest households, or 50 million families, a guaranteed income of about $1,050 a year.
Gandhi gave no details about how the ambitious project would be financed, but said that it would be fiscally prudent. “We’ve done all the calculations, we’ve asked the best economists.” It is being called “Nyay,” which means justice in Hindi.
Political analysts see the Congress Party’s announcement as a bid to outdo Prime Minister Modi, who last month announced a much more modest annual $90 cash handout for poor farmers. “The bigger the better in politics” was the refrain of many commentators.