Wednesday April 24, 2019
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Congress’ tactical mistakes: Lalitgate

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By Amulya Ganguli

By allowing parliament to function on the penultimate day of the monsoon session and participating for a while in a debate on the Lalit Modi affair, the Congress’ mother-and-son leadership has shown it is something of a novice where tactics are concerned.

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www.indianexpress.com

Had the leaders allowed a debate immediately after the “improprieties” of Sushma Swaraj came to light, they might have been able to score more political points than what they did last Wednesday.

A debate on the external affairs minister’s procedural lapses soon after the news broke would have caught the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) off guard, especially because it would have had to find convincing explanations for Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s apparent favouritism towards the former Indian Premium League (IPL) supremo.

But by refusing to let parliament function till Sushma Swaraj and Raje resigned along with the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the Congress let the BJP have enough time to gather its wits and formulate the strategy of a counter-attack.

As much was evident from the external affairs minister’s belligerent speech in the house which matched Rahul Gandhi’s aggressiveness. The result was a draw, with a clear victory eluding both sides.

While Rahul Gandhi was unable to substantiate his charge that the minister had committed an act of criminality by secretly helping a fugitive who, according to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, was not legally a fugitive at all, Sushma Swaraj had to go back to the Bofors scam (1987) and the Bhopal disaster (1984) to hold her ground.

If anything, the slanging match showed the Congress that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others.

It is possible, of course, that the BJP would have raked up the past even if the debate was held on the first day of the session.

But the Congress would not have earned the reputation in the meantime of being anti-development by holding parliament to ransom, which has led to an unprecedented appeal by the corporate sector to the political class to let parliament function.

Even if India Inc’s intervention has been criticized by the opposition parties, they cannot be unaware that the concerns of the “haves” are shared by a wide section of the “have-nots”, who are not amused by the slogan-shouting and placard-waving.

Congress leader Anand Sharma’s assertion that the BJP as an opposition party had also derailed legislative business cannot be an adequate justification for the Grand Old Party’s disruptive tactics.

However, one beneficial fallout from this sad episode can be that the politicians in future may refrain from indulging in such tit-for-tat theatrics which further tarnish their image.

There is little doubt that the Congress decision to let Sushma Swaraj speak notwithstanding the din created by Sonia Gandhi’s and Rahul Gandhi’s storm-troopers was the result of a growing belief in the party, which was first voiced by Shashi Tharoor, that the Congress was painting itself into a corner as the reluctance of several opposition parties to support its rowdy conduct showed.

It is this dissatisfaction which has led to the first signs of a rival group which is distancing itself from the Congress and the Left. As much was evident from the attendance at a meeting convened by Nationalist Congress Party (NAC) leader Sharad Pawar, of bigwigs like the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Janata Dal-United’s Sharad Yadav, the National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah and Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee.

If the BJP succeeds in securing their support for the passage of at least the Goods and Services Bill, if not the amended land law, during a special session, the Congress will find itself isolated with only its ally of the 2004-08 period, the Left, giving it company.

It is obvious that by taking an extreme position on the ministerial resignations, the Congress has left itself no escape route.

A possible reason for this tactical error is that the party’s present leadership has never faced a serious challenge till now. As a result it is at a loss as to how to deal with one except by creating a ruckus.

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi rode to power with their band of courtiers in 2004 because, as Atal Bihari Vajpayee believed, the BJP lost because of the revulsion caused by the 2002 riots.

Then, for the next 10 years, the Congress had an easy run as the BJP became something of a ‘kati patang’ or a drifting kite, as a fellow-traveller, Arun Shourie, said.

However, the abrupt end last year of the Congress’ reign seemingly puzzled and angered the party, and especially its first family, which is probably afraid that its grip on the organization may slacken in the absence of a fighting spirit since it is feudal loyalty which holds the outfit together rather than any clear ideology other than a vague socialism.

But the mistake which Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have made is not trying to unite the opposition parties on issues on which there can be a wide measure of agreement.

The land law is one such subject, but the mother-and-son duo took the wrong turn when they insisted on demanding the resignations of the alleged wrong-doers first and holding discussions later.

(IANS)

Next Story

Is NYAY Going To Be A Game Changer for Congress?

The concerns about funds being used for harmful purposes cannot be ruled out. It is due to these challenges many policymakers suggest that instead of making welfare payments to poor households in the form of unrestricted cash transfers the government should focus on in-kind transfers.

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Congress on Friday promised to create one crore jobs across the southern state
Congress state units given more power for 2019 battle- wikimedia commons

By Amit Kapoor & Manisha Kapoor 

The idea of launching Nyuntam Aay Yojana, a cash transfer scheme that intends to provide Rs 72,000 per year to the poorest 20 per cent Indian families, by the Congress Party if it comes to power, has stirred a debate among the policymakers about whether the move is economically viable or is just a tactic by the Congress Party to garner votes in the upcoming general elections.

The discussions are foreseeable, provided that this intervention to ensure basic income to the poor households will cost the country somewhere between 1.5 per cent to 3.4 per cent of GDP, a number higher than the government’s expenditure on healthcare and education. The implementation of NYAY means an additional cost between Rs 3.6 lakh crore to Rs 7.2 lakh crore per year.

To put things in perspective, the expenditure of the proposed scheme is 2.2 times the budget of all centrally sponsored schemes. The party claims that they have worked out all the fiscal calculations before launching the scheme. However, this will be a major dent in India’s budget expenditure and will explode the fiscal deficit from the current 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

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An impact evaluation study by UNICEF in Sub-Saharan Africa showed that with the exception of temporary price rise during payment period, cash transfers has no impact on the prices. Pixabay

Apart from fiscal prudence, the other immediate concern surrounding the scheme is the identification of beneficiaries and the database that will be used for this. There is no official income database available with the government at the individual level and since most of the poor work in unorganised rural areas, there is no direct way of verifying their incomes such as through a payroll or income tax.

The proponents of the approach state that a good starting point could be Socio Economic Caste Census of 2011 if one goes by multi-dimensional aspect of poverty. However, one can’t ignore the fact that even if the scheme defines poverty by assets and not income for quick exclusion rules, the data is outdated. A scheme targeted at reducing poverty can’t use data that is seven-eight years old. Even if one ignores that, it should be noted that there are major methodological issues with how data was collected. This is reflected in the discrepancies that exist in the data collected through SECC and other governmental data. A fresh survey for the identification process will lead to possibilities of corruption as in other targeted schemes. For instance, various studies have shown that many people who are not below poverty line have BPL cards.

One should also keep in mind that there exist significant disparities across Indian states and districts in terms of income levels and affordability of basic needs such as education, healthcare etc. Therefore, the same amount that means a lot to a person living in a low-income state or a state that has good access to public facilities such as public hospitals, schools etc would not be enough for a person trying to make a living in a high-income region. As a result, a prerequisite for such a scheme is a detailed regional level survey on income characteristics of Indian states and districts.

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To put things in perspective, the expenditure of the proposed scheme is 2.2 times the budget of all centrally sponsored schemes. The party claims that they have worked out all the fiscal calculations before launching the scheme. Pixabay

Another major concern surrounding the scheme is its inflationary implications. It is argued that the act of transferring cash to the target population will boost their purchasing power, which would lead to an increase in demand for goods and services and, thus, push prices upwards. Advocates of the approach have tried to argue that studies around the world present a lot of evidence to the contrary.

An impact evaluation study by UNICEF in Sub-Saharan Africa showed that with the exception of temporary price rise during payment period, cash transfers has no impact on the prices. However, these evidences should be considered with a pinch of salt. They rest on the assumption that the money will be spent on useful goods, that will help the local economy in becoming more productive. Though this will not be the case always.

Also Read: Food Unites People Across The Globe

The concerns about funds being used for harmful purposes cannot be ruled out. It is due to these challenges many policymakers suggest that instead of making welfare payments to poor households in the form of unrestricted cash transfers the government should focus on in-kind transfers. This idea is supported by claim that in-kind transfers will help by encouraging the consumption of right things, such as healthy food.

Given India’s concerns about rising unemployment rates, jobless growth and the fact that we need to have effective utilization of our young population to gain a competitive edge over other economies, the promoters are trying to project that NYAY can prove to be a game changer. However, for the Indian economy, a better alternative would be to strengthen the existing public services landscape by removing social, political and personal barriers, along with carrying out structural reforms that leads to creation of more productive jobs. (IANS)