Home >Elections 2019 >Opinion >Opinion | How BJP and Congress share the same economic ideas
Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In trying to hard-sell their own versions of the cash transfer schemes, BJP and Congress have unwittingly revealed their characteristic frailities. (PTI)
Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In trying to hard-sell their own versions of the cash transfer schemes, BJP and Congress have unwittingly revealed their characteristic frailities. (PTI)

Opinion | How BJP and Congress share the same economic ideas

In their manifestos for Lok Sabha elections 2019, both the BJP and the Congress are relying on their individual versions of social welfare schemes and safety nets to appeal to the voter

There’s a quote attributed to Groucho Marx, though its provenance is said to be questionable. “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies."

It could be the starting point for reflecting on 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The conversation has swung between national security and economic stagnation. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has adopted national security and terrorism as key talking points and has been reluctant to address India’s real economic problems. This is understandable at two levels: first, acknowledging the problem is admitting it occurred on their watch and, second, it is conceding they scored a self goal because many economic problems today emanated from demonetisation.

Predictably, the BJP manifesto, "Sankalp Patra", skips references to the move.

Yet, conscious of the problems that are pulling the Indian economy down, the BJP has tried to offer some solutions.

The Congress, on the other hand, is trying to reposition itself as the main opposition party, having suffered a humiliating rout in 2014. It is trying to bring some focus on plummeting farm incomes and the lack of employment opportunities for the youngsters joining the labour force . The party is hoping to leverage the deep disgruntlement among farmers (most of whom have seen their incomes stagnate) and unemployed youth. Unsurprisingly, its manifesto devotes the first chapter to jobs.

ALSO READ | There is a method to the manifestos

In reality, economic hardships have exacerbated over the past three years and both parties make extra efforts to appear sympathetic. Both are relying on their individual versions of social welfare schemes and safety nets to appeal to the voter. One welfare scheme—cash transfers—has caught the fancy of both parties, adding custom-built bells and whistles. A basic guaranteed income has been promised, with clear targeting.

There’s a quote attributed to Groucho Marx, though its provenance is said to be questionable. “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies."

It could be the starting point for reflecting on 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The conversation has swung between national security and economic stagnation. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has adopted national security and terrorism as key talking points and has been reluctant to address India’s real economic problems. This is understandable at two levels: first, acknowledging the problem is admitting it occurred on their watch and, second, it is conceding they scored a self goal because many economic problems today emanated from demonetisation.

Predictably, the BJP manifesto, "Sankalp Patra", skips references to the move.

Yet, conscious of the problems that are pulling the Indian economy down, the BJP has tried to offer some solutions.

The Congress, on the other hand, is trying to reposition itself as the main opposition party, having suffered a humiliating rout in 2014. It is trying to bring some focus on plummeting farm incomes and the lack of employment opportunities for the youngsters joining the labour force . The party is hoping to leverage the deep disgruntlement among farmers (most of whom have seen their incomes stagnate) and unemployed youth. Unsurprisingly, its manifesto devotes the first chapter to jobs.

ALSO READ | There is a method to the manifestos

In reality, economic hardships have exacerbated over the past three years and both parties make extra efforts to appear sympathetic. Both are relying on their individual versions of social welfare schemes and safety nets to appeal to the voter. One welfare scheme—cash transfers—has caught the fancy of both parties, adding custom-built bells and whistles. A basic guaranteed income has been promised, with clear targeting.


This is where lines both diverge and converge, contradictory as it might sound. Both parties have avowedly different ideologies but seem to cohere to a broadly common economic programme which cedes primacy to the market and re-imagines an expanded role for India’s private sector alongside a shrinking role for the state.

The cash transfer scheme is a back-handed acknowledgement of failure to reform the economy, abolish poverty, reduce inequality or sort out the structural issues that keep the economy from achieving its full potential. Instead of fixing the deep-rooted troubles (such as eliminating entrenched vote banks that deny farmers their rightful income) and investing in robust primary education and healthcare infrastructure, both parties have opted for the easier route of throwing around somebody else’s money.

I’ve written about the futility of cash transfers and how they do not help. Both parties are ambivalent on how the expenditure will be funded, or they will continue alongside existing subsidies. Partisan economists on both sides are busy picking holes in the other party’s scheme without recognizing the inherent weakness of all cash transfers.

In trying to hard-sell their own versions of the cash transfer schemes, both parties have unwittingly revealed their characteristic frailties. The BJP announced the scheme only for farmers with 2 hectares but has now promised to expand it to all farmers. The fine print in the Congress scheme discloses that actual payouts are likely to be delayed with the means-testing taking some time.

The overall tenor of the BJP manifesto is meant to appeal to the majoritarian, urban middle class with national security concerns, rather than a sluggish economy, occupying headlines. The 2014 manifesto had some pretensions of universality, which "Sankalp Patra" dispenses with.

The Congress manifesto, on the other hand, is bound together with a more inclusive and humane thread but is weighed down by one key genetic flaw: a subtle patronizing attitude, which is highlighted when the manifesto talks about enforcing anti-corruption laws without a tinge of irony.

Rajrishi Singhal is consulting editor, Mint.

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