Policy paralysis mark poll campaign

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 4/14/2019 12:30:03 PM IST

 The election time is show time. The misses are swept under the carpet. Rhetoric rules the roost. Manifestos are not necessary about substance or firm promises. These may be real in some cases and away from the reality in most cases.

In the din, the US withdrawal of zero-duty entry for Indian exports under Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) went unnoticed. The opposition, in disarray, has not been able to rake up pressing issues. For any ruling party, it is a matter of relief.

Surprising is the silence of the business chambers. The US decision would have direct impact on Indian exports and balance of payment. It required an intense diplomacy and the government had been rigid despite US warnings since early 2018.

The government could have accepted the US demand for allowing imports of US dairy products. It could have helped Indian businesses.

The complexities of Brexit are also to impact Indian exports. That also is not discussed. It is in contrast to the foreign policy stress of 1971 manifesto of Indira Gandhi, when Indian Ocean littoral states took a significant space.

And industrial production in February grows by 0.1 percent.

Politically, economic diplomacy is not easy to explain to the electorate, who are suffering from job losses, inflation despite a low WPI, high bank charges, tolls and the threat of losing their ten-year old vehicles to quixotic NGT rules that allow pollution by factories but not small emissions from a car.

All manifestos have ignored the pressing issues and are not even considering the ecological issues of building roads and airports indiscriminately.

After several promises in the Congress manifesto, a similar expectation was there for the BJP manifesto. It, however, is not harping so much on development as it did in 2014. Many past promises of the BJP are incorporated by Congress and stress on delivery. 

In tune with the campaign, BJP has harped on issues that would boost up nationalistic approach. It harps on the Jan Sangh’s Article 35 A, 370, Kashmir and panders to religious sentiments, not through Lord Ram, but national register of citizens (NRC) – reviving the sentiments of the Partition.

The BJP manifesto is light on legal reform whether in terms of legislation, policy proposals or judicial reform. May be the 2014 document had overdose of it and as the Narendra Modi government repealed 1200 redundant laws.

In contrast, Congress proposes 14 new legal reforms. Manifestos of Samajawadi-type parties are hardly readable.

BJP, like the Congress, targets the farmers. It has already transferred Rs 2000 of the Rs 6000 a year to them. Now it promises Rs 25 lakh crore investments in agri-rural sector. It looks attractive but the mode of raising fund is not discussed. 

Obviously, the government does not have that kind of money and for the past many years any investment for the farm sector has come through bank credit. The MUDRA and stand up India has further added to bank NPAs. 

Corporate investment has been minimal. Now banks cannot be further stressed. Depositors are at a crisis as their interest accruals have come down and tax components have increased. None is bothered about it.

The manifesto stress to turn the country as defence production hub is yet to be understood. It will have massive investments but no one discusses the criticality of military productions. Would it also cause problems that the US and many western countries are afflicted with?

In 2014, the BJP had promised abolition or maximum relaxation in income-tax rates. It did only partially in 2019 budget by raising the limit to Rs 5 lakh. But those above it would not have any benefit as taxes would be calculated at the threshold limit of Rs 2.5 lakh plus standard deduction. 

The new manifesto again says that taxes would be relooked into. But the way the party in 2014 promised to do away with road toll on private vehicles and later reneged, has not caused enthusiasm. 

It is also silent on the stray cattle menace, a product of cow vigilantism, destroying crops in the cow belt. 

Demonestisation does not find a mention. Politically it should have stressed on its benefits.

Somehow, Odisha’s KAALIA scheme has its echo. The BJP takes care of pension for 60 plus farmers, shopkeepers and already introduced in the budget pension for unorganized workers. 

The welfare schemes are good but its economic costs certainly are not estimated during poll time. The KAALIA looks good as is MNREGA. 

But both created a system of lazy people who because of these doles shun working. This has lead to influx of labourers from Jharkhand, West Bengal and neighbouring states to Odisha. In simple terms, it is a double whammy for state economy. It has more outgo and now the society is also paying as a large part of state GDP goes out due to import of labour and supporting a class of inactive people.

The poll time is also the time to discuss critical issues. But election commission (EC) has sanitised the campaign to such an extent that parties are neither approaching voters neither they are discussing problems nor are they talking to voters. The process stymies democratic discussion.

That is possibly the reason for low turn-out in the first phase of polls. Voters apparently are feeling cut-off. The family-based, ideology-bereft parties do not create confidence though that is the alternative. Politically, voters are confused. The refrain is that nobody is listening to them and nor anybody is talking to them. 

Door-to-door contacts are not there. It is an uncertain situation. There is fear and apprehension.

Social media has not been able to replace personal contacts and the dialogue. Parties have to realise that 2019 may be the disaster for social media campaigning.  

One lesson that nobody is learning is the failure of Manmohanomics – that ensured pro-corporate profits and jobless growth. Today’s problem of the BJP emanates from it. The manifesto has not evolved a new policy. Even if BJP is able to form a government it exemplifies policy wilderness. 

Post election that would be the crucial task.

Winning the battle is not enough. Welfare economics charms but is devoid of hard realities. Contesting a key election without national policies on jobs, farms, industrial production, low inflation and sound financial institutions may prove to be costly. Post-poll the path has to change.

Shivaji Sarkar

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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