Better employment opportunities, better health care and schools, availability of safe drinking water are top three voters’ priorities followed by the need for better roads and public transport.
With the nation in election mode, it is a season of promises from political parties. Every important political leader is offering a handful of promises. However, the economic problems facing the nation are likely to remain the same in the next five years too, unless drastic reforms are undertaken to bridge the rising inequality, the gender gap, slowdown in industrial growth, low investments in the social sectors and India’s inadequate infrastructure.
This general election will be interesting; if it is true that the government has failed on the economic front, especially in the creation of jobs, then the incumbent party is in trouble. There has been a rise in unemployment. The lower participation of the labour force in the last couple of years also points towards low job creation.
Three recent surveys by the Oxfam, the Pew Research and the Association for Democratic Reforms have spelt out clearly that the main concern of voters is jobs. Feeling the insecurity of the people, the Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi has promised Rs. 6000 per person per month for the bottom 20 per cent of the population under a new plan, Niyuntam Aay Yojana (Nyay).
The details of the Nyay scheme have not been spelt out. The question of targeting of the scheme will be difficult to resolve. The financing of the scheme is another big problem because it will cost at least 1 per cent of the GDP as per the Congress Manifesto.
It is doable only if taxes are raised for the rich and the corporates and government wastes and expenditures are scaled down considerably.
The Nyay scheme will give minimum support to the poorest of the poor so that they can sustain themselves during the periods of unemployment. It will prevent their standard of living from being pushed down further, when children will be taken out of schools and their nutritional intake fall. If they have cash in hand, the minimum requirements of health and nutrition can be protected.
That the problems India is facing are hard to solve in the short term and only incremental changes can be undertaken in the five-year term of any government in power at the centre has been pointed out by the latest Oxfam survey ‘Mind the Gap: The state of Employment in India.’
It gives a clear view of the perennial problems that India is facing and how women are being left out of the growth process.
According to it, India is a highly unequal country on all counts of inequality — it is multidimensional. There are inequalities in wealth, income, and consumption as well as structural inequalities of opportunity, region and social groups.
Job creation and employment are key issues in fighting inequality. Three out of four women don’t work and most are paid 34 per cent less than men performing the same job with the same qualifications. Women are unable to work mainly because they carry a high burden of unpaid care work in the household.
There is wage inequality also and there is need to raise the minimum wage. Otherwise, the share of wages will remain low in the national income. According to the Oxfam, the nature of production in the organised manufacturing sector has changed as it has an increasing share of profits and declining share of workers’ wages in the net value added. Increasing real wages can lead to moderating wage inequality that would ultimately lead to reducing inequality.
The structural problems in society remain unaddressed and inadequate attention is being paid to the socially marginalised and disadvantaged groups. They remain at the bottom of the pile and are forced into stigmatised jobs that ruin their chances of social and economic transformation.
Corruption is endemic and people are very worried about it. According to Washington based Pew Research Survey of 2,521 respondents, 64 percent think that most politicians are corrupt.
Around 69 per cent of both BJP and Congress supporters share the view that elected leaders are corrupt. Corrupt officials are a big problem, according to 65 per cent and 64 per cent felt crime was a very big problem in India.
According to another recent report, ‘All India survey on Governance issues and Voting Behaviour 2018’ by the Association for Democratic reforms, the important questions facing rural and urban India are also mainly economic.
The respondents have rated the government’s performance in various important issues relating to the economy.
Better employment opportunities, better healthcare and schools, availability of safe drinking water are top three voters’ priorities followed by need for better roads and public transport. People want reduced air pollution and safety for their families through better policing and maintenance of law and order.
There are important agriculture related governance issues due to the dependence on it by half the population despite falling wages. Availability of water for irrigation is a major concern. Half of India’s agriculture depends on the monsoons for irrigation. Farmers continue to be in deep debt and hence ease of access to loans is a major concern. They are also concerned about getting higher, more remunerative prices for their produce and are worried about the quantum of agricultural subsidy for seeds and fertilisers. In none of the voters’ priorities, the performance of the NDA government was rated as average or above average.
If the election issues had remained mainly economic, the outcome of the elections would have been quite unpredictable. But the economic questions facing 900 million electorate seem to have been pushed to the background by the threat of terrorism following the Pulwama attack. The NDA government is pushing the important economic issues into the background and is hoping to use its muscular nationalism image and PM Modi’s bold narrative of being a decisive leader to tilt the scale in its favour.
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David Rusnok Researcher Strengthening National Climate Policy Implementation (SNAPFI) project DIW GermanyRead More +