Image: PTI

Speaking at a rally in Chhattisgarh today, Rahul Gandhi has promised a “minimum income guarantee” for the poor if the Congress is voted to power in 2019. He is reported to have said “This means there will be no hungry, poor people in India.”

Rahul’s grandmother Indira Gandhi had made a similar promise of “Garibi Hatao” in 1971. How much poverty and hunger has been removed since then is there for all to see.

Here are a few questions for Mr. Rahul Gandhi on his proposed “minimum income guarantee”:

  1. What is the level of “minimum income” that will be guaranteed? Currently notified minimum wages are around Rs. 10000 per month. Will the guaranteed “minimum income” be more than that?
  2. Will the “minimum income” be guaranteed for everyone or only for the “poor”? If it is the latter, what about the criticisms regarding India’s poverty estimates? How will the “poor” be defined under this programme?
  3. How will the money be transferred to the beneficiaries? If it is through the Jan Dhan Yojana accounts, what about the problems with benami and idle accounts? Wouldn’t this become another way to squander public funds? What about the problems regarding Aadhar linkage with bank accounts?
  4. Will the “minimum income” be transferred to beneficiaries on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis? Would the “minimum income” be linked to inflation?
  5. Would other social sector schemes like the PDS, NREGA etc. and income support programmes like crop procurement at MSP, setting of minimum wages etc. continue after the introduction of “minimum income guarantee”?
  6. What about guaranteeing employment for all those entitled for the “minimum income guarantee”?

These questions need to be answered by the Congress party or any other political party, which is making such a promise. Else it will be seen as a yet another ‘joomla’, much like Modi’s promise of giving Rs. 15 lakh to every bank account holder.

The idea of a “universal basic income” is the latest fad of neoliberal economics. Having led to unprecedented levels of income and wealth inequalities in the past four decades, besides precipitating the worst global recession since the great depression, neoliberal advocates have now found this palliative.

What we actually need is an alternative policy framework, which will decrease income and wealth inequality through higher taxation of the rich and greater public spending on food security, employment generation, education and healthcare. We need to put an end to crony capitalism, that has become the hallmark of the neoliberal regime. The mainstream political parties do not seem to be interested in such alternative ideas. They want to sustain the neoliberal regime, with band-aids like “minimum income guarantee”.