Former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram says the NYAY, also known as the Minimum Income Guaranteed Scheme, is certainly implementable since it would need only less than 1 per cent of the GDP when it is fully rolled out and covers all 5 crore families at the end of five years (2023-2024) when the GDP is expected to increase to Rs 400 lakh crore.
In an interview to DH’s E T B Sivapriyan, the chairman of the Congress manifesto committee spoke about BJP’s criticism of the promises, the DMK-Congress alliance in Tamil Nadu and the impact that AIADMK rebel T T V Dhinakaran would make this election. Excerpts:
Manifesto of the Congress party released last week is the talking point in the country and as chairman of the committee that drafted the document, what do you have to say?
Because it is not the kind of manifestos that people have been used to in the last several elections. It is a very different document, constructed not by a few wise men and women sitting in a room, but by holding extensive consultations in 174 locations in the country. Every idea, every thought contained in these 55 pages has come from a citizen of India. We have simply accepted the idea of thought and formulated it in precise language. So, the ownership of this manifesto is with the people of India.
You say that it is the views and thoughts of the people that have been reflected in the manifesto. But, the BJP, starting from the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) to the Finance Minister (Arun Jaitley) to other leaders, says the ideas or promises made by the Congress is not implementable. They also ask where will the money come from to fund these projects, especially NYAY? Your response.
I have invited the BJP leaders for a debate on the implementability of the manifesto. I agree it is not implementable by the BJP. It is certainly implementable by a competent, caring and compassionate government. When the Congress party announced MNREGA, you would remember that the BJP said it is not implementable. We implemented it. The BJP threatened to scrap it but after it came to power, they were forced to continue it and forced to defend it in Parliament. When we announced the loan waiver scheme in 2008, the BJP said it is not implementable (and) it is beyond the capacity of India. But we implemented it in four months by June 30, 2008. Therefore, what may appear to be unimplementable by the BJP does not mean that it is unimplementable by anybody. We will implement every one of our promises.
You say you will implement every promise made in the manifesto…
(We will implement) over a period of five years.
Where will the money come from for these projects, especially NYAY which is also known as Minimum Income Guaranteed Scheme (MIGS)? It is not just the BJP which is raising the funding question but economists and experts as well.
But there are an equal number of economists who say it (NYAY) is feasible. So, in a lighter vein, one cancels out the other. So, leave out the economists. We go by the numbers. I have explained more than once, and I am happy to explain again that the size of India’s GDP in 2019-2020 is Rs 210 lakh crore (and) this will increase in five years to nearly Rs 400 lakh crore. The size of Central and state governments expenditure have increased (to) Rs 60 lakh crore and it will increase to nearly Rs 130 to Rs 135 lakh crore. We are talking about spending Rs 3.6 lakh crore when the programme is fully rolled out and covers all 5 crore families, which means when the GDP hits its peak in the 5th year it will cost less than 1 per cent of the GDP. Why do you say India cannot afford less than 1 per cent of the GDP for its poor? And I ask another question: should not India have the heart and the compassion to set apart 1 per cent of India’s GDP for 20 per cent of India’s population. Those who have a heart will say yes; those who have no heart will say no.
It is not only the BJP which is criticising the Congress manifesto. On Sunday, BSP supremo Mayawati also took pot shots at Congress manifesto calling many of the ideas unimplementable. Your response.
Why is Ms Mayawati bothered? If we come to power, we will implement it.
Has the Congress manifesto created a divide among the Opposition parties with leaders like Mayawati criticising it. Is the Opposition unity more of a mirage now?
Those who are allies with us are supporting our manifesto. Every single party in Tamil Nadu which is part of the alliance is supporting our manifesto – even the CPI and CPI (M) have said there are great ideas in the manifesto. Who is opposing our manifesto among our allies?
The Congress manifesto says it will replace NEET with a state-level entrance exam; it also says school education subject will be transferred back to state. Does it mean that a state like Tamil Nadu can decide on its own whether to have a state-level entrance exam for admission into medical colleges?
Obviously, the state of Tamil Nadu will have to comply with Article 14 of the Constitution. What we are saying is that the admission to medical colleges built by the state government and even private medical colleges built in Tamil Nadu is a matter which falls within the jurisdiction of the state government. Until the NEET exam came into being, admissions to medical colleges in Tamil Nadu was done by the state government. It did not mean that we produced poor doctors. In fact, Tamil Nadu is an advanced state as far as medical care is concerned. Therefore, to assume that if the Centre conducts an examination, the quality of admission will be good and if the state government conducts an examination the quality of admission will be poor is an argument that has to be rejected. What we are saying is that students who are domicile in the state have the first right to admission to state medical colleges. Obviously, the state government will have to devise an examination of a very good standard to select the students to admit them to medical colleges, which they will.
How do you see the DMK-Congress performing in this election because the AIADMK-BJP alliance also looks formidable. Your comments.
They have only four parties – it is the AIADMK plus the DMDK plus PMK and many people wrongly think plus BJP. I say it is minus BJP. The BJP is not a positive factor, the BJP is a negative factor. Tamil Nadu is the most anti-BJP state in the whole country. The sentiment in Tamil Nadu is totally against the BJP. The AIADMK is split, the DMDK is no longer the party that it was 10 years or 5 years ago, the PMK has done a summersault in aligning with the AIADMK and the BJP is a negative factor. That front is not a formidable front.
How do you see your alliance performing?
The DMK-Congress plus alliance has never lost a Parliamentary election in Tamil Nadu. We fought under the DMK-Congress banner in 1971, 1980, 1996, 2004 and 2009 and we have never lost a Lok Sabha election. I expect that this Lok Sabha election too, the DMK-Congress plus alliance will win.
What is your assessment of AIADMK rebel T T V Dhinakaran? There is a general opinion that besides eating into votes of the AIADMK, Dhinakaran’s nominees might also eat into the minority votes. How do you see the situation panning out?
Let them eat into the votes of the AIADMK. Why should I grudge it? They will not eat into the votes of minorities. The minorities know that they are electing a national government and they know that with the threat of BJP looming large, the way to stop the BJP is to vote for the Congress party.
Is the DMK-Congress alliance banking only on the anti-Modi sentiments? Why do you think people should vote for your combine this election?
Because this election will decide not only the fate of the next Central government. It will also decide the fate of the next State government. The current state government is a minority government and it is hanging on to its seat because of the benevolence of the BJP. Moment there is a change of government at the Centre, within a matter of days or weeks, there will be a change of government in the state, with or without an election.