In response to a call given by prime minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has offered a set of five suggestions to the government on cutting down on expenditure. It’s welcome that the government and the opposition have come together at this time of crisis. However, Sonia Gandhi's suggestions are a disappointment. They would not add much to the national effort to tide over this situation; some of them will in fact undermine it.
The Congress president’s suggestion of a blanket 30 per cent cut on central government expenditure, other than on salaries, pensions and central schemes, is in line with the fiscal conservatism neoliberal economists often advance.
True, the government must cut wasteful expenditure but it should find new avenues to pump in more money into the economy if we are to survive as a nation. A safety net for migrant workers is welcome but what they need more is work, to create which we look to the government. The government should spend more, not less.
Sonia Gandhi's suggestion of a blanket ban on foreign tours by the top functionaries of the government, including the president and the prime minister, serves no purpose other than tokenism. Her suggestion to cut back on government advertisements in the media, if implemented, could ensure that only the big fish media with corporate backing will survive.
However, her other proposals, to postpone the Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista project to build a new Parliament building and transfer of funds received under the PM Cares scheme to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, deserve serious consideration by the government.
Noticeably, the Congress president has not asked for a cut in defence expenditure, which indeed could have provided the government some much-needed financial leeway. Perhaps, she is afraid of being branded anti-national by the right-wingers.