Rahul Gandhi is all ears to former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan who favours leftist push to the economy
The Congress has taken a certain left turn in its bid to outsmart the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state elections. From being a centrist party with a shade of leftism in policy formulation, Congress is moving more to the left in giving centre stage to the policy formulation that the people in the country need to be cared for by giving money in their hands. This is in contrast to the economists who argue that the people should be enabled to earn their own livelihoods than support them with cash handouts.
More than a decade ago, in 2011, the then ruling UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had launched Aajivika Mission in Banswara, Rajasthan after the right-thinking economists with heft within the Congress had concluded that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) was coming out with full of leakages and least asset development.
Dr Manmohan Singh, the then prime minister, along with Sonia Gandhi had taken part in the launch of the Aajivika Mission, which was hailed by the Congress at that time as a game changer as the scheme would make the people in the rural areas self-employed and earn their own livelihoods. Aajivika was the name given to the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. The UPA government wanted the focus to shift from the MGNREGS to Aajivika.
It’s a coincidence that Jairam Ramesh was the Union Minister for Rural Development in the latter years of the UPA-II government. Ramesh is now an integral part of the Team Rahul Gandhi. Ramesh was working to find market linkages for the rural artisans in states such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and others to give a meaningful direction to the Aajivika scheme.
But the UPA after two terms in office was voted out of power. Ramesh became busy writing books. The Congress went into the wilderness. The BJP seemed set to wipe out the Congress. Worse, even a section of the Congress leaders began thinking that the party has no future. The scale of defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections only grew in the 2018 general elections.
The Congress leaders from the dissidence camp, who sought non-Gandhi leadership at the helm, gained more attention than the Gandhi family. The story of the Gandhi family was suggested in some quarters to be over. Rahul Gandhi was dubbed a non-serious politician.
But the team Rahul Gandhi regrouped. Ramesh joined as a key member of the team and also became the head of the communication department of the Congress. The party began experimenting with pre-poll adjustments with the Left parties in West Bengal. The Congress repeated the experiment in Tripura. The Left parties began influencing the economic worldviews of Congress.
Rahul Gandhi boarded the Left-at-the-steering bus with enthusiasm. Even before Rahul Gandhi set out on the Bharat Jodo Yatra, he was all ears to the former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Raghuram Rajan, who is a votary of putting cash in the hands of the people as a way to pump consumption to push the economy to higher growth. Rahul Gandhi would most often hold interactions with Rajan, who even briefly walked with him during the Bharat Jodo Yatra during which several Left-leaning economists also appeared with the former president of the party.
Now, the Congress has taken a decisive Left turn. Himachal Pradesh Assembly election could have been taken as an exception because the hilly state largely has government employees as its core vote base and the party may have made a one-time exception to ride the populism of promising to restore the Old Pension Scheme, and several other cash dole-outs to the people.
But the Congress went steps ahead in Karnataka, which is in the league of very few states with high per capita income and where the unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country, roughly stated to be 4.2 per cent, while the state Budget has a size of Rs 3 lakh crore, besides being the source of the second highest monthly GST collections since October last year.
A section of economists claims that the Congress’ five guarantees would cost Karnataka almost Rs 62,000 crores annually. This will amount to almost one-fifth of the total Budget of Karnataka. The Congress has not yet explained how the economy of Karnataka would gain from such excessive cash dole-outs. Only this week, a young girl died in Bengaluru, drowned in a car after a sudden downpour in a city, which claims to host all the top international corporate names, besides hundreds of research and development centres.
The amounts to be given to the unemployed graduates (Rs 3000 monthly) and diploma holders (1500 monthly) could have easily been spent on skilling them for their employability, and even linkages found with countries such as Japan, Australia, Germany, Nordic countries, etc., who are facing acute shortage of the trained manpower. But the Congress’ left turn appears to be a template for the revival of the party ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, and economics, for the party leaders, can't wait for better days to get the due attention.
(The writer is contributing editor of The Pioneer)