More often than not, MSP remains a fancy bit of legislation on paper and doesn't really translate into change at the grassroots level.
The time has been set: In early April 2019, the citizens of India will start making their trip to the voting booth to decide the future of the country and giving birth to a new era in Indian's political, social and economic growth. As party lines are drawn, it becomes apparent that the Opposition's strategy is to focus and lean upon the waning charisma of its frontman. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi might be doing himself a great disservice by making the 2019 elections about himself. His performance at office has hardly been plaudit-worthy! The BJP could avail of coalition politics at this juncture but Namo seems to have isolated his party from the idea of any gathbandhan-style coalitions. Mr Modi has made it pretty clear that he wants all the power to his party, and himself, (with an exception for Amit Shah) rather than share the political stage with any other party. Yes, he has made a few salutary gestures but the real power still lies with team Modi-Shah.
Given his intentions, Mr Modi has just about two months to deliver new economic reforms and policies. The next few weeks therefore, are going to be crucial on two counts. First, Mr Modi needs to continue to push for economic reforms and deliver GDP growth and jobs. And second, he needs to keep Elections 2019 in mind and manage welfare politics. Given the abysmal performance of the Modi-led government on the economic front over the last term, it would take nothing short of a miracle for the "Namo Again" chant to yield anything on the economic development front. In a desperate bid to win over the farming community, the Modi government is holding out sops and promising new schemes to help farmers, but it is too little, too late. The minimum support price (MSP), announced by the Cabinet last week has not been met with cheers from the mandis or the farmers.
More often than not, MSP remains a fancy bit of legislation on paper and doesn't really translate into change at the grassroots level. Only a measly 5.8 percent of the farmers are able to sell their crops at MSP in mainly states like Haryana, Punjab and UP. The good Dr Sukhpal Singh, a professor at the Centre for Management in Agriculture, Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, is of the opinion that it will also lead to a lopsided growth of paddy, wheat and cotton since these are the only crops that are effectively procured under the MSP scheme.
Meanwhile the Congress has improved its performance in the state-elections. The Congress win in states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh - are significant because these will be a key test for the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress party to improve its track record. For Mr Gandhi, the party's improved performance in the January elections could help firm up his position within the organisation and take on critics over delivering elections for his party. If indeed the party performs well, it will be another step forward for the 48-year-old leader. It could be greater acceptability by other Opposition parties who have renewed attempts to forge an anti-BJP alliance. The Congress campaign in Bengal advises the party to fight on "its own strength" and is leaning on the experience of veteran leaders of the PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) like party chief Somen Mitra in Bengal and the young and dynamic Gaurav Gogoi bringing-up the Assamese-Bengal alliance, New Delhi.
It is perhaps time to evaluate what the Congress is capable of doing in this fast-sinking ship of badly executed economic schemes like Demonetisation that has sucked out 80 per cent of India's currency and had left a large section of India's middle class unemployed. It has also rendered its poor even more vulnerable. To quote the Congress party leader Palaniappan Chidambaram, the country needed to be "rescued from the hands of incompetent economic managers". The BJP has spent a whopping `4,800 crore just on advertising and publicity for its campaigns in the last four years. That is more than Netflix, Colgate or Dettol spend on their TV Ads.
Perhaps the homeless can recycle the "Namo again" hoardings and use them as shelters, but what will they do with the endless money spent on other forms of advertising that are not recyclable? Economists say that 46 million of India's hungry children could have been fed mid-day meals with this money. It could have been used to pay one day's wages for 200 million workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. About 6 million new latrines could have been built. And quite frankly, it could have funded another few trips to Mars! While we chew on those numbers lets consider that ours is a country in critical need of even distribution of wealth.
The Ambani (estimated 70 crore) wedding clearly indicates that we are not a poor country. But we are clearly still caught up in the feudal model of governance, where the ruling party (the "kings") gets to spend the taxpayer's money on whatever it pleases: read 5 crores just on posters of Mr Modi - this is not counting his international trips which have yielded little or nothing in terms of foreign investment. We have to ask ourselves the crucial question at this juncture: Do we really want another term of poor economic reform and right-wing violence against minorities? How many Rohit Vemulas have to die before we realise that it's time to stop the violence against dalits? How many beef-motivated lynchings must we witness before we can see that these are just innocent Muslims being targeted to perpetuate a reign of terror?
Let us resolve to give birth to a new nation. India votes and votes well. There has never been a more important time for the franchise of the secular vote.
The writer is the chairperson of the AICC grievance cell. The views expressed here are personal.