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Can one say that populist measures failed ?




After the December 4th election, the decimation of the Congress struck the party pretty badly. In fact, the total decimation of the party in terms of number of seats in the state of Rajasthan was shocking, especially because the Congress Gehlot Government had put a lot of focus on populist schemes including on health which has not been done by other states to the extent that Rajasthan has been doing. The central UPA Government has also put in a lot of focus on populist measures over the past many years to ensure that there is good support – which includes the newly minted Food Security Bill that the Congress is putting a lot of focus on. In addition, the cash transfer scheme that the Government was putting so much focus into (but which does not find too much mention nowadays) was another attempt at appearing as a Government that is focusing on improving the lot of people. However, none of these seem to have done much good to the Government in these states, but the measures taken in Mizoram seem to have found their mark.
In states such as Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP Government also took a number of schemes that could be counted as populist, and no one could come out and say that they have failed. In fact, some credit of the sweeping wins of the BJP were to be given to these populist measures, such as the cheap rice in Chattisgarh. So, it would be wrong to say that populist measures do not work.
The problem, as I have mentioned in previous blog entries, is about the effort put in by the Congress in making these populist measures effective. So the Congress came out with a rural jobs program (MNREGA) that should ideally have got them a lot of support by the rural and semi-urban poor, but any audit or investigation of this scheme has revealed that there is an incredible amount of corruption going on in that scheme, and it is not that the Congress does not know about this. For whatever reason, they really have not taken measures to stem leakages and ensure that people in the villages get their due measures on time under this scheme rather than having to fight against the local bureaucracy. And there is no sustained effort to create lasting structures such as rural roads or local water harvesting structures as a part of this scheme, which would ensure that people remembered that there were Congress efforts.

You take another important enabling effort that the Government had introduced, the Aadhar scheme. When introduced, the Government was not able to ensure that the fighting between ministries was resolved quickly and this discussion and fighting went on for long periods of time. And then state Governments decided to take the benefits of such an identity mechanism, and quickly mapped schemes to the Aadhar card, not caring that the measures for ensuring that people had an accurate Aadhar card were not yet fully in place. So people would go to get an Aadhar card made, but the cards would take too long, or people would get inaccurate cards and had to face not-friendly infrastructure at the Aadhar camps (as if there was a favor being done to them by giving them Aadhar cards). And then the court pointed out that for all the huge investments in the scheme, the Government had not done the proper legal foundation for a scheme that involved collecting biometric data, and frowned massively on making this card mandatory for getting benefits.
The Government had done a farmer loan waiver scheme during its last term and touted that as a major benefit. It did benefit people, but at the same time, the inadequate amount of supervision was reflected in the audit reports that pointed out how ineligible people got waivers and how banks also twisted the process of waivers. These are examples of how the Government just does not seem to have the energy or the level of effort required to ensure that there are anti-leakage mechanisms along with these welfare schemes. If the Government had actually put in these mechanisms, they would have got a lot of support and also ensured enough money for more of such welfare measures. It is not the populist measures that failed, but the fact that such measures were too little, were not managed well, and left a lot of scope for corruption in them, something that people were able to see.
The time is short for the Congress to recover on these fronts, and it seems unlikely that the Congress will give up its focus on the mother-son Gandhi duo and instead actually figure out what went wrong for them.




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