New Delhi (Sputnik): The proposed minimum income guarantee scheme, named NYAY by India's main opposition Congress Party, announced on Tuesday, has brightened up the opposition's mood while forcing the governing party's (Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP) camp to counter this just a week ahead of the first phase of the seven-phased national elections.
Congress has had a legacy of fighting elections on the poverty alleviation plank. As the governing party for the first four decades of India's independence, the party has been headed by family members of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's clan. After Nehru, his daughter, Indira Gandhi, took over the party reins and governed India, followed by her son, Rajiv Gandhi. The current challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi is Rajiv's son, Rahul Gandhi.
The Congress released its election manifesto on Tuesday and has focused on the welfare state as a means for ensuring justice for the poor. Besides NYAY, the party promises that highest priority would be given to the creation of jobs and the extension of a rural job guarantee scheme — from the current 100 days to a promised 150 days.
"Today is a historic day. It is on this day that the Congress party launched its final assault on poverty. That 250 million of the poorest families in India will receive INR 72,000 per year (around $1,000) is NYAY (Justice) for India and this is our dream and our pledge. The time for change has come", Rahul Gandhi, Congress chief, said while releasing the party's manifesto for the 2019 general election in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Dithered by the announcement and its possible impact on the re-election prospect of Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley termed the proposed scheme an all-time Congress bluff.
"Most economists have already rubbished the Congress Party's NYAY. Between the Centre and the states, we are already giving to the poorest 20 percent of the population much more than what NYAY promises. As the economy expands to depletion of poverty, further amounts can also be increased", Arun Jaitley said soon after Congress' manifesto release — a visible nervousness in the governing camp according to experts.
Several analysts and opinion surveys have predicted missing the majority mark for the governing party, something which has created a flutter in its camp. As the NYAY electoral promise permeates down into rural areas on the minimum income guarantee scheme, it may make the governing party more nervous.
"Over the last week, we have been tracking voters' perception about the much-touted Congress NYAY scheme. It has slowly begun to catch on in terms of awareness among the masses, but has not yet made a deep impact", Praveen Patil, psephologist and founder of 5Forty3 Datalabs says.
Narendra Modi has been trying his best to counter this poll promise from Congress by raising national security issues, including the air strike in Balakot inside Pakistan and the anti-satellite missile test on 27 March. Just a week before polling begins he has been trying to arouse Hindu nationalist pride and accused the Congress of committing a "grievous sin" by linking the Hindu majority community with terrorism. Substantiating his charges, he mocked Rahul Gandhi for "taking shelter" in a constituency where the majority community (Hindus) is in the minority. Rahul Gandhi had earlier opted to fight elections from a second constituency — Wayanad, in south India.
"The charges coming from Narendra Modi is an indication that he possibly is not very sure of the election campaign going completely his way", Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst and author of Modi's biography, told Sputnik.
Nevertheless, the Narendra Modi government has claimed that it has distributed much more in the last five years than what Congress has been promising to do under the income guarantee scheme. It claims that besides subsidies for food, fertilizer, kerosene, 55 Ministries handed over subsidies to the poor through the direct benefit transfer into bank accounts. This comes out around INR 106,800 annually (around $ 1,557) as compared with the INR 72,000 (around $ 1,050) which Congress is promising through the direct benefit transfer mechanism. The government also claims that minimum wages for labourers under the rural guarantee scheme have been raised by 42% under the Modi tenure.
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The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.