Unshackled from regional allies who appealed primarily to caste interests, UPA-2 is subtly introducing a change in its semantics of inclusion by shifting focus away from caste-oriented welfare interventions.
Instead, youth and women are the two social categories in focus in UPA-2’s agenda for growth with inclusion.
“Addressing the concerns of these two categories will take the politics of inclusion beyond caste,” an aide to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who did not want to be quoted, told HT. “Youth and women subsume all other identities and politics of inclusion becomes more pan-Indian.”
Hemmed in as it was during the previous regime by caste parties, the government had to talk their language — P. Chidamabaram’s budget for 2008-09 had seven paragraphs under the title ‘SC, ST, OBC and minorities’.
Pranab Mukherjee’s budget speech on Monday, instead, had sections like ‘towards inclusive development’ and ‘empowerment of weaker sections’.
Special mention of minorities, however, continued.
Both Chidambaram and Mukherjee mentioned the word ‘inclusive’ six times in their speeches. But the details differed.
Last year’s budget speech mentioned Scheduled Caste/Tribe at least 12 times; this time, there was only one mention of SC and none at all of ST.
The word ‘women’ was mentioned eight times by Chidambaram while Mukherjee mentioned it seven times in his speech and twice while joking about how he wanted to maintain his popularity among them.
Chidambaram started ‘gender budgeting’, i.e., accounting for women-specific programmes under various ministries, but women as a category that includes other identities is the fine-tuning of UPA-2.
The new budget has a slew of measures focusing on women — to improve literacy rates, to target that 50 per cent of them are enrolled in self-help groups.
The huge outlay for higher education and technical education will provide the youth with “the right education and skills”, said Mukherjee.
The words ‘youth’ or ‘young’ did not find mention in last year’s budget. Mukherjee mentioned them thrice. At the very beginning of his speech, he said “he was sensitive to the great challenge of the rising expectations of a young India”.
His mention of youth echoed the President’s Address inaugurating the second innings of the UPA, where she spoke of carrying the ‘weight of their dreams”.