This article appeared on Ritam
The time period of 1942-47 found a curious mention by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a speech last week while interacting with newly elected MPs. Evoking the historic phase that galvanised the country against the colonial rulers, Modi said that a similar mobilisation is now needed to win the battle against poverty. Interestingly, this was the second consecutive speech since his stunning victory in which he repeatedly mentioned poverty elimination as a target.
India’s battle against poverty has seen several decades, elections, governments, leaders and social changes. The mandate of 2019, however, has changed India’s development linguistics. The mandate has rejected the offer of short-term benefits and spoken in favour of enduring solutions. The electorate has increasingly shown awareness of the fact that the problem needs a holistic approach targeting the 350 million Below Poverty Line (BPL) population and also encompassing the 400 million strong middle class.
It is a fact that the achievements of Modi’s first term have laid the ground for substantial gains in his second term. Check on pilferages and corruption, disbursement of benefits to more than 20 crore people and implementation of transparency in governance are only some of these measures. It was a result of these that the government was re-elected for a second time with a bigger mandate. It is safe to say that no one is more aware of the strength of this mandate than Narendra Modi himself who is likely to wage a multi-pronged onslaught for revolutionary outcomes.
Doubling the income of farmers, for example, is not a poll promise anymore but a clear goalpost. A full scale ‘rural revival’ is needed to bring this about. Steps were taken to this effect in the last term. Minimum support price of 22 crops was increased 1.5 times and measures such as PM-KISAN were brought in to provide succour to farmers. But these were only stop gap measures and the real push is likely to come through the promised 25 lakh crore investment in rural sector. This would mean boost to rural infrastructure from roadways to communication. It would result in creation of jobs and take the pressure off farming by developing associated income generating activities within the rural ecosystem. A key step could also be taking optical fibre network to 5 lakh villages and opening up the rural sector to IT enabled jobs besides a host of facilities and information which it has no access to right now. The first step in this regard was completed in the last five years through rural electrification. The setting up of Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) could also revolutionise the manner in which market and producers interact and carry out business and give producers greater leverage in getting appropriate price for their produce.
Another goalpost is bringing in Rs 100 lakh crore investment with the objectives of accelerating the growth of Indian economy and providing world class facility to all Indians. The two focal points of this investment will be infrastructure and manufacturing sectors. This would translate into introduction of metro in 50 cities, modernisation of railways, doubling of national highways, expansion of waterways systems, as well as creation of better education and health infrastructure. In the manufacturing segment, increasing defence manufacturing capabilities could come as big boost. A new industrial policy is also expected with special focus on medium and small scale enterprises. Together these will mean increased employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for low income as well as middle income groups.
With Modi’s repeated emphasis on social justice and inclusion, a huge push is expected towards affirmative action. With targets of social justice, we may see government vacancies being filled up, increasing support to entrepreneurs from marginalised communities, pin pointing of beneficiaries (for example women in Ujjwala Yojna) and targeted schemes for different interest groups. In the last tenure of the government, health segment saw a huge fillip with the introduction of Ayushman Bharat Yojna. It is expected that the benefits of this scheme will be taken to a wider population in this tenure. In the education segment too, a boost is expected in improving literacy levels and improving skills. A further increase in ITIs and technical training institutes will be seen so that the employability of workforce can be increased and the young population can be harnessed as a dividend.
The second term of Modi government will build on the gains of the first five years. While the focus of this government will undoubtedly be on battle against poverty, it is unlikely to resort to the tactics used by the previous governments. The sheer magnitude of this target may scare many but Modi is nothing if not a master of tough decisions. Expect him to turn this into a battle cry over the next five years. If you thought poverty alleviation was not possible in India, it’s time to think again.