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  BJP switches to pro-poor stance

BJP switches to pro-poor stance

Published : May 27, 2016, 1:04 am IST
Updated : May 27, 2016, 1:04 am IST

The big ideological swing in the ruling BJP comes in sharp contrast to the derision with which the party’s elders may, in their prime, have viewed Indira Gandhi’s slogan of the 1970s — “Garibi Hatao”.

The big ideological swing in the ruling BJP comes in sharp contrast to the derision with which the party’s elders may, in their prime, have viewed Indira Gandhi’s slogan of the 1970s — “Garibi Hatao”. The merger of voters’ expectations with the ruling party’s political ambition did not happen overnight. This policy shift of the BJP, in sharp focus now amid the fanfare of its completing two years in office, came as early as in the 2016-17 Budget last February. What the switch in focus to “empowering the poor” means now is to get both party and government even more on to a populist path for the next general election, although the Narendra Modi government has been through only 40 per cent of its term.

With the Budget having already increased the spending on agriculture, health and social sectors even at the cost of shifting the emphasis away from infrastructure spending and market reforms — the major election planks of the BJP before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections — it was clear the party was willing to change tack. While this can be dismissed as springing from a hunger for power in all political parties, for the BJP to abandon its core values and risk alienating the urban and semi-urban vote, which was instrumental in creating the Narendra Modi landslide, must seem like a huge sacrifice. A slide on “Prosperous farmers for a prosperous India” in the commerce minister’s PowerPoint programme about the celebrations ahead said it all.

There is no getting away from India’s socialist path and welfare spending, not when at least 180 million people live in extreme poverty and probably as many others survive at subsistence levels. However much anyone may long to alleviate this evil and lament, like Bertrand Russell, that they cannot and so they suffer for it, the stark fact remains: a large proportion of India is steeped in poverty despite the significant market reforms of the 1990s and rapid modernisation in several sectors.

It is, however, not as if something has not been done already under the current dispensation. In fact, stemming the fund leakage in the MGNREGA, PDS and subsidised cooking gas schemes and the running of programmes like Swachchh Bharat, the Jan Dhan Yojana with account holders in excess of 21 crore people, and the opening of Mudra Bank are feathers in the cap of those who in two years have found greater impetus than in many decades past. The current resolve to work on behalf of the underprivileged reflects more evocatively the reality of India. Beyond the vote-garnering potential of the new political direction there is the matter of tending to the basic essentials of life, like housing, sanitation, safe drinking water, public healthcare and malnutrition, which is the moral responsibility of anyone wanting to govern India. This is the most vital lesson the BJP has learnt in two years.