As expected, the Modi government has made an all-out populist push with its interim Budget weeks before the General Election. It’s undoubtedly a now-or-never attempt to win over various disgruntled sections, particularly the farming community, the salaried class and the pensioners. Agrarian distress was a crucial factor that led to the BJP losing out to the Congress in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The Congress stole a march on the saffron party by promising and then duly implementing the loan waiver scheme. With its distant dream of doubling farmers’ income by 2022 finding few takers, the government has come up with Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, a scheme for direct benefit transfer of Rs 6,000 to small and marginal farmers. It’s not only too little, but also too late in the day. Instead of conceptualising sustainable solutions, the government has succumbed to the temptation of dishing out a band-aid dole that won’t do much to keep the farmer out of the debt trap.
The BJP has also tried to placate the lower middle class, one of its major sinews of support, by doubling the threshold income tax rebate limit to Rs 5 lakh. Public memory is short, but not short enough to forget the disruptions caused in the recent years — the crippling effect of demonetisation and the chaotic rollout of the GST regime. A mega pension scheme has been announced for the unorganised sector, which had borne the brunt of the note ban and is being wooed by the Congress with its ‘guaranteed minimum income’ promise.
In all, these exchequer-draining initiatives are expected to cover at least 25 crore people. The ruling party is banking on them to lap it all up. However, it would be tough for the BJP to convince the electorate why it had taken the government so long to announce these welfare measures. ‘Why now?’will be the restless voter’s obvious question. Desperately eyeing another term, the BJP needs credible answers.