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The writer of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto released today seems to be a man who takes inspiration for his politics from two opposite ends of the planet in the East and the West. For his social philosophy from an old Chinese monk who preferred to teach a man how-to-fish, rather than feed him one. And for his economic worldview from Alan Greenspan, former chairman of US Federal Reserve, for his monetarist-market-economics model premised on rising-tide-raises-all-boats. Eventually. For, what else explains the almost calm indifference in the document towards the raging debate on Rahul Gandhi’s Rs 72,000 per annum cash doles scheme? The writer could well be Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Let us begin with Agriculture. Apart from the Rs 6,000 per annum support for agricultural inputs to small and marginal farmers, already in place, all other promises for farmers revolve around incentivizing responsible conduct. Be it rewarding prompt repayment of loans with zero interest, or voluntary enrolment for crop insurance, the onus is on farmers to get involved. Instead of a big cash transfer, BJP talks of investments of the order of Rs 25 lakh crores – about 350 USD billion – in the agri-rural sector. This incentivising is in line with various WTO protocols that prefer infrastructure support and capacity building, something that helps America sustain its massive farm subsidies. The belief is that investments would create avenues of growth and bring the much-needed technology infusion that can lift India’s agriculture from the morass of labour-intensive low productivity.
While the left-liberal ecosystem of the Congress party is already panning the BJP manifesto for its silence on jobs, the party’s economic conservatism is reflected in what it promises instead. Though not mentioning timeframe, Rs 100 lakhs crores – USD 1.4 trillion plus – worth of infrastructure push and scaling up of enterprise promoting MUDRA scheme show that Modi and the BJP see in their formula a resident constituency. Again, incentivizing self-reliance over dependence.
To make the economy enterprise friendly, a progressive lowering of taxes and a sustained benign inflationary scenario has been achieved with twin objectives of decreasing cost of capital and increasing consumer spending – at the expense of some run-ins with the RBI leadership. Speaking from Sonepur in Odisha on April 6, Modi accused the Congress party of using poverty as a political weapon. Taking cue, the manifesto does not even talk about removing poverty. “We are committed to bringing down the percentage of families living below the poverty line to a single digit in the next five years,” it says instead. Not that the party wants to live with poverty. It only means, I guess, that a self-respect and self-reliance driven economic model would be more successful in its objective, over the tried, tested, and failed socialist model of doles and populism.
Having provided social security nets through schemes like Ayushman Bharat, JAM trinity, and Atal Bima Yojana, is this realism or in-your-face confidence? Is the BJP underestimating the lure of populism? If the Congress positioned itself as left of centre liberal pole of Indian politics in its manifesto, BJP has firmly put itself on the side of conservatism – both social and economic.
I remember the election of 2012 in Gujarat when as Chief Minister seeking his third mandate, Modi faced a tough challenge from the Congress in the form of a populist scheme ‘Ghar Nu Ghar’ (Your Own Home) that was an instant hit in terms of buzz in media and masses alike. Modi responded with nothing and went on to win the election. But there’s a catch. Gujarat is a capitalist society which has enterprise in its blood. Would the rest of India understand Greenspan and the Chinese monk? On that would depend the 2019 verdict. Over to May 23.