Opinion

Rahul Gandhi’s NYAY scheme could build bridges where there are no rivers : Rajeev Sharma

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Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev famously said: “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges where there are no rivers.” Can this remark apply to Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s ambitious scheme called Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) which he announced on March 25?

Much like former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao’ in the seventies and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of 15 lakh rupees for every Indian once black money was recovered from foreign accounts, Rahul Gandhi’s NYAY faces the risk of promising the moon to the electorate during elections.

NYAY is a huge scheme, even by global standards and might not have a global parallel. It involves uniform cash transfers of Rs 72,000 a year, or Rs 6,000 a month, to the poorest 20 per cent households, or about 50 crore households based on 2011 census data. It requires mind-boggling Rs 360,000 crore a year, or close to 2 per cent of India’s current GDP.

Clearly, this is the biggest announcement made by any political party to the voters this election season. However, has the grand old party managed to take the message of NYAY to the 20 per cent households it is meant to benefit?

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dubbed Congress’ NYAY has a bluff and a mere poll gimmick. That said, there is reason to assume that if the BJP had announced this scheme, without doubt the message would have reached the intended beneficiaries. The same cannot be said about the Congress, and for obvious reasons. The BJP has the financial heft and a massive cadre base that would have worked towards popularising the scheme.

The Congress is wanting on this front. The Congress also missed an opportunity of running a pilot in a select area in any of the states it is ruling — it would have been a tough task but this would have reflected as a testament of its will to implement it across India if it came to power. This would have been possible had the scheme been announced well before the Model Code of Conduct came into effect on March 10.

Another big challenge for NYAY would be data about rural households who qualify for the scheme. According to three national surveys, about half of all poor households in rural India did not have a BPL card in 2004-2005.

Rohit Tripathi of US-based policy advocacy group Young India has been visiting several Lok Sabha constituencies across India. During his visits he found that Congress candidates were highlighting the benefits of NYAY and juxtaposing it with Modi’s farm assistance of Rs 6,000 a year and the ‘Rs 15 lakh promise’.

Tripathi was of the view that in many places people viewed such financial grants with suspicion because of the poor track record of political parties implementing it. In Madhya Pradesh, for example, people were more concerned about whether the Congress-led state government would implement the farm loan waiver it had promised before the assembly polls in December.

“I don’t think policies sway people before implementation when it comes to votes. At least the amount proposed by the Congress makes sense. I don’t think that NYAY alone will win them any seats but when put together with other policies, especially in MP, it gives voters a sense of seriousness about the economic challenges of the people,” said Tripathi.

Without doubt, Congress’ NYAY scheme has given the party an upper hand over the BJP. When seen together, Rahul Gandhi’s Rs 6,000 a month is much bigger than Modi’s Rs 6,000 a year. Moreover, since the NYAY money will be put in the account of the woman in the beneficiary families, the concomitant effect would be women empowerment.

A public interest litigation has been filed in the Allahabad High Court contending that the NYAY amounts to bribery and violates the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The case will come for hearing on May 13, but even in the unlikeliest scenario of an adverse court order, it wouldn’t create much political impact as by then only one phase (59 seats) of polling will remain.

# Rajeev Sharma a senior journalist and political analyst. Twitter: @Kishkindha. Views are personal taken from moneycontrol

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