Will parties learn?

Lessons from Hindi belt polls

Members of Hindu Jagaran Manch during a rally at Shahid Minar Maidan, in Kolkata, on December 15, 2018. PTI

The recent assembly elections have taught us valuable lessons. It has, for starters, brought back the common man and the issues that matter to him centre-stage. The Congress’ win is a message that the average man doesn’t support draconian policies or regressive religious ideologies and that in 2019, the ruling party cannot ignore the issues of the common man and what affects his livelihood.

The triple loss in the Hindi heartland indicates that Hindutva cannot be the unifying force that drives the nation. After over four years of the Narendra Modi government, the country is reeling under farmers’ distress, unemployment, a GDP growth rate that has to be fixed and refixed to make the government look good, and the promise – again -- of a temple.

One cannot sing psalms on empty stomach, and this is exactly what the ruling party forgot amid its promises of ‘Hindu Rashtra’. No doubt we are religious in nature and we keep our religions close to our hearts, but we are also scientific in our thinking. The Congress was voted out in 2014 because the ordinary man didn’t feel that the government was working for his welfare and that of the State. It is for the same reason now that a ruling party again has been shown the truth during the assembly elections. Welfare of the people and the State is the goal that a government must strive tirelessly to achieve. Everything else is farce.

The plight of farmers is a reality, however hard the ruling party might try to cover it up. Agrarian distress is visible all around us but it is being blatantly ignored. The farmers have marched in protest many times in the last four years demanding loan waivers and better price support. One of the biggest points of the BJP/NDA campaign in 2014 was the issue of Minimum Support Price. Farmers have been displeased for a very long time now. Lack of better selling prices and the pressure of the loans that they took for cultivation has led to a large number of farmers committing suicides. Although many states have rolled out loan waiver schemes, the inability of the central government to show support and solidarity with farmers helped focus their wrath on the Centre.

A temple is of no help when you are under debt and cannot even make ends meet. An overdose of communalism, forced renaming and redefinitions have caused a collective nausea among people. The assembly elections have lessons for both parties to learn from. Thunderous populism, arrogance, ignorance, rhetoric and disconnect will not take anyone a long way. Clearly, over-committing and underachieving is not acceptable to voters anymore.

India is a country with 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below 35, a youthful nation. It consists of a generation that is informed, aspirational,  logical, perhaps more impulsive as compared to previous generations but yet reasonable.  The youth are keen on getting sustainable jobs, not renamed cities.

India has seen jobless growth in the last four years. As per a Labour Bureau survey, there was a loss of 3.74 million jobs between 2013-14 and 2015-16. The divergence between growth and jobs has risen and the total employment actually shrank by seven million between 2013 and 2015, which means that a 10% increase in GDP resulted in a less than 1% increase in employment. These facts signify that the focus should be on creating jobs and this gives the polity a clear agenda.

Regardless of which party comes to power in 2019, the country’s leader has to be visionary, yet grounded. A practical dream is to strive for a job-full growth. One way to achieve it is by promoting the growth of MSMEs more aggressively, by pumping in budgets with a clear objective of skill development for an industry-ready workforce. The training programmes currently are a mismatch between youths’ aspirations and their skills.

There are no dearth of opportunities in the IT sector with the advent of Cybersecurity, Cloud, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence or Machine learning. All we need to do is to tap it through public and government initiatives. Producing periodic data on employment, promoting and tracking the entrepreneurial sector are some ways to sustainable employment generation.

Empower women farmers

Farm loan waivers, coupled with policies focused on inclusion with subsidised agricultural inputs, access to agricultural extension services, can do a great deal. Another way is the inclusion of women farmers by giving them equal access to the resources. If empowered, women farmers can increase yield up to 20-30% on their farms, as pointed out by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation. Increase in rations, minimum support price (MSP) for maize, sugarcane and soybean, and enhancement in MSP of paddy are promises that Congress should live up to.

Education requires immense focus. In Chhattisgarh, the state government must focus on creating a university. Education must see a bright light, and the government must look at diverting investment towards biotechnology, information technology or the banking sector in Chhattisgarh.

These assembly election results clearly bring out the repercussions of bad governance. The loss of the BJP in the Hindi heartland was not because of the rise of the opposition, but because of its own ignorance, its inability to pick up signs and act on them. The silent marches by the farmers was the silence before the storm. A party in power can no longer choose to ignore the livelihood problems of the citizens. Between religion and livelihood, the choice is clear now. It’s time parties understood this and straightened their game.

(The writer is Founder-CEO, Fiinovation, and Chairman, Centre for CSR and Sustainability Excellence)

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