Congress manifesto’s focus is on inequality - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Congress manifesto’s focus is on inequality

Apr 23, 2024 12:09 AM IST

It is an attempt to have a reasonable conversation about equality and inclusion, one that listens to the whole range of voices in our society.

The Congress party’s 2024 Nyay Patra manifesto has listened to the troubles of tens of thousands of citizens across society and offered concrete solutions to our biggest problems — unemployment, high prices, the crushing of civil liberties and the corrosion of India’s public institutions. The Congress manifesto paints a vision of a just and vibrant India in which constitutional commitments of freedom and equality can be realised. However, others are trying to paint a darker picture. Some columnists, including in these pages (Monika Halan, “Questions to the Congress on wealth redistribution”, April 16, 2024), have begun a scare-mongering campaign, portraying a moderate and progressive manifesto as some form of radical redistribution. On Sunday, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi turned it into a dog whistle against the party.

FILE- India’s opposition Congress party leaders from left, Sonia Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, and Rahul Gandhi, display copies of party’s election manifesto during a press conference in New Delhi, India, April 5, 2024. India's 6-week-long general election starts on April 19 and results will be announced on June 4. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)(AP) PREMIUM
FILE- India’s opposition Congress party leaders from left, Sonia Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, and Rahul Gandhi, display copies of party’s election manifesto during a press conference in New Delhi, India, April 5, 2024. India's 6-week-long general election starts on April 19 and results will be announced on June 4. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)(AP)

The fact is the Congress manifesto does not use the word “redistribution” anywhere. Nor did Rahul Gandhi promise to redistribute the nation’s wealth in Hyderabad on April 6, 2024. What he said, as he has been repeatedly saying, is that representation of Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), Other Backward Classes (OBC), Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and minorities is suboptimal in vital decision-making. Their presence in the bureaucracy and other public institutions, in the media and in business, seems to be at stark odds with their population.

Reservation benefits also need to be distributed equitably to sub-groups within the reserved categories. What can be done to aid social mobility, the natural concern of any democracy that strives for social stability? The Congress party — and indeed the next INDIA government — will address this gap by carrying out a Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) that includes data on income and asset ownership. This picture will be filled out with data from a financial and institutional survey which will be periodically updated so that we can move to an evidence-based conversation about the representation of disadvantaged groups.

The Modi government’s opposition to an SECC is itself two-faced. On August 31, 2018, then home minister Rajnath Singh even announced that the 2021 census would count the number of OBCs, but the government failed to act. The Census questionnaire does not have any column that records OBC identity. The Modi government never released the caste data collected by the 2011 SECC but has freely used its social and economic data covering 25 crore households for welfare schemes. For someone who has described himself as “sabse bada OBC”, PM Modi’s aversion to having an actual sense of OBC numbers is puzzling.

Any attempt to portray the economic proposals of the Congress as extreme flies in the face of history. Even when it had an outright majority, the Congress party has been inclusive and incrementalist. The party that ended zamindari in the 1950s worked with landed farmers to bring about a Green Revolution in the 1960s. The party that promoted financial inclusion by nationalising banks in the 1960s also carried out liberalisation, gradually in the 1980s and decisively in the 1990s. This is a party that responds to the needs of all our people, not one beholden to narrow interest groups or ideological boxes.

When it appeared that the benefits of growth were not being widely dispersed, the Congress party built a social safety net in the form of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the National Food Security Act. When a crisis hit in the form of Covid-19, the PM who had criticised these programmes found himself relying on them to save India.

Leading global economists, including Thomas Piketty, have shown how India under the current government is more unequal than it was under the British Raj (“Income and Wealth Inequality in India, 1922-2023: The Rise of the Billionaire Raj”). The share of national income earned by India’s top 1% is at its highest historical levels and is also among the highest globally. Even in this situation, the Congress manifesto takes a measured approach. We have sought to generate accurate census data, including caste, that can take us to a fact-based discourse and policymaking on social and economic disparities. For the better-off sections of society, we have promised a stable Direct Taxes Code, lower taxes on MSMEs, simplification of GST and tax relief for shopkeepers and small retailers who are facing competition from online businesses.

This is far from being an agenda of class warfare or radical redistribution. It is an attempt to have a reasonable conversation about equality and inclusion, one that is informed by facts and listens to the whole range of voices in our society.

Amitabh Dubey is a member of the Congress party’s manifesto committee. The views expressed are personal

Get World Cup ready with Crick-it! From live scores to match stats, catch all the action here. Explore now!

See more

Get Current Updates on India News, Elections 2024, Lok sabha election 2024 voting live , Karnataka election 2024 live in Bengaluru , Election 2024 Date along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world.

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Tuesday, June 18, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On