Friday, April 25, 2014

From the Diary of a Bombay 'Voter'

This is an excerpt from the diary of Nitin, a 19-year old college student who lives in Bandra, Bombay. It is dated from 24 April, 2014, the day the city went to the polls and might go some way in explaining the city’s abysmal voting percentages.

Ok, the day started off in a fairly confusing manner, a sign of things to come. All the newspapers outside my door carried the exact same picture on the front page: Modi stared out from it, his left hand, for some odd reason, depicting the popular physics mnemonic, Maxwell’s Right Hand Thumb Rule. Another dude was staring at the back of Modi’s head with a look of mild disgust, the sort you get when you see dandruff flaking off someone.


(Dad told me later on that the guy’s name was Uddhav Thackeray, a distant relative, apparently, of English novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray. To fit their current image, they’d dropped their middle name “Makepeace” though.)

Anyway, I extricated our newspaper from the neighbours’ and stepped back inside. Thoughts took shape slowly but surely in my sleepy brain. Ah yes, today was voting day. Of course! A most important day for Indians like me, when we would boldly step out and exercise our democratic franchise so that our proud nation could choose a new President.

Democracy! I don’t know much about it but something about that word just gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, you know. Like when a football club which you love more than dear life, situated half way across the world and run by people who don’t even know Bombay exists, defeats another football club. Yeah, like that.

The problem was, dude, I didn’t have a clue who to vote for, you know. I mean I am aware of who Rahul Gandhi, Kerjiwal and Obama are and I know that Manmohan Singh is the Chief Minister but that doesn’t help me choose, now does it?

Apart from me, though, everyone else kinda seemed sorted. I mean just the other day my mother, who’s set on Modi, gave me a huge dressing down over the fact that I’m so laid back.

“This time, young man, you’ve gone too far
Ab ki baar….you must do something about your grades. They’re plummeting.”

Which was correct but right now I had bigger fish to fry.

My dad, on the other hand, is like this MASSIVE Kejriwal supporter, man. He hates corruption, politicians, staying too long in office and, you know, other things that the AAP hates. He’s just totally bonkers for the Aam Admi Party; pushes it every chance he can get. In fact just the other day, he got caught by a paandu for jumping a light. That bugger was asking for 300 bucks to let us go, which is way too high, you know? Dad was like, “are hum to aam aadmi hain, itne paise kahaan se laayenge?”. Turned out the policeman was an AAP fan too. The two spoke for some time about how awesome Kejriwal was and then settled on 150, which was a fair and reasonable amount, I thought.

My best bud, who we all call Pappu, cos, you know, he can’t dance, might seem as clueless as me but surprisingly the bugger had made up his mind too. A couple of days back, while we were talking of how our luck with girls was so rotten—our usual rant—he suddenly piped up and said, “We don’t need girls, maan. Haven’t you seen those ads with that guy? He’s like, ‘har haath shakti, har haath taraqqi’. I say if he can get to 43 and be so open about that sort of thing, what’s stopping us, eh? I mean that’s pretty brave, man. Rahul Gandhi, respec!”

Also, the princi sent us a mail the other day telling us about the elections. I did read it a couple of times but couldn’t understand what this Gujarat model was, that he was going on about. I mean I don’t even know about any models from Gujarat and, I mean, who cares? This is Bombay. I say talk about issues that matter here like setting up a high-security fenced border between Bandra and the rest of the city to keep out the riff raff. The other day I think I saw a person who looked like he was from Ghatkopar wandering around Hill Road. Creepy, I know. But that’s the problem with these political debates: they don’t even get close to the real issues that matter to the voter.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I did reach the polling booth, confused as ever. I had decided I’d wing it once inside. Vote for whoever strikes my fancy at the moment. As it turns out, those guys didn’t let me vote anyway. Said something about my name not being on the electoral rolls. Apparently you had to register yourself beforehand. I mean WTF. Who’s going to go through all that trouble, man?

Of course, this was extremely disappointing: not only had I been denied my fundamental right as a citizen of the world’s largest democracy to choose our country’s next ruler, I had also lost a chance to click a picture of my inked finger and upload it onto Facebook.

I wasn’t to be stumped that easily, though. I got back home and with a little bit of ink from a pen, managed to create a pretty good impression of the voting ink they used. With the appropriate Instagram filter, no one would be able to tell the difference. Uploaded it and BAM! 26 likes and one comment: “Osum! Jai Hind!”

Not a bad day after all.

First published on NewsYaps

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why Arvind Kejriwal is the only politician in India to wear shirts and trousers

Arvind Kejriwal is the only major politician in India to sport Western wear in public. What does this tell us about his politics?

A couple of days back, Arvind Kejriwal released a video titled “Samvaad - Arvind Kejriwal's message for all Indians”. Not having enough money to advertise on mass media (a fact that Kejriwal mentions in the video himself to gain sympathy) the Aam Aadmi Party is depending heavily on social media to make its case and this video is part of that.  The message delivered is standard and Kejriwal dishes out much of what the AAP has espoused since it started, mainly an end to top-down democracy and the cleansing of politics, especially with respect to corruption and criminalisation. What I found particularly interesting, though, is the way Kejriwal had dressed up it. He was sitting on a chair, had a neat side-parting, rimless glasses and a copstach moustache. Close ups of his face tell us that his moochh is turning grey and his chin sports an untidy, day-old stubble. He is dressed in a striped, pastel-coloured, formal button-up shirt with crumpled grey dress trousers. Notably, his shirt is untucked. He isn’t wearing shoes or, for that matter, any footwear, adding to the informal-yet-sincere tone of the message.

Amongst major politicians in the country (and yes, he is a “major” politician now), Kejriwal’s style of dressing is fairly unique. In politics, where symbolism is crucial, it might be instructive to see why this is so.

Most other politicians, in public, wear what the rural populace in their area does. Thus, Mamata sports a sari (suitably cheap and crumpled to suit her populism) and most male politicians in Tamil Nadu wear a veshti paired up with a shirt. Mulayam Singh Yadav, from the heartland, wears what could be called the national dress of India: the dhoti-kurta. The leaders of India’s two biggest parties, though, differ in this respect from their regional counterparts: they both wear kurta-pajamas.  The kurta pajama is, in terms of sheer numbers, not really a very popular combination across rural or, for that matter, even urban India. It does, though, have a certain pan-country appeal which suits the agenda of the Big Two.

This insistence on indigenous apparel is fairly unique to India, even controlling for size. China is a larger country (although we’re doing our best to close the gap) but its politicians prefer plain old suits. In fact, at summits like the G-20, you’ll find that our prime minster is the only one not wearing a Western suit.

In India, maybe more than most other countries, clothing has always carried a significant amount of political symbolism. When modern politics first started out in the country, though, the Anglicised “microscopic minority” that practised it, stuck to Western clothing. Two major Indian politicians at the turn of the 19th century, Dadabhai Naoroji and Pherozeshah Mehta both have impressive statues in Bombay which have them dressed in trousers, button-up shirt and an overcoat (fairly unsuitable wear for a city as humid as Bombay, it might be noted). Ditto with Motilal Nehru, most pictures showing him in a three-piece suit as would befit one of Allahabad’s most successful lawyers.

The sartorial stuffiness of Indian politics was thrown out almost completely, though, with the induction of one Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi, as a lawyer in South Africa had naturally worn Western clothing. On his return to India in 1915, though, he adopted in full measure the dress of the Indian kisan. Pictures from his first mass movement, the Champaran Satyagraha show him dressed in a dhoti-kurta. Later, he would dress “down” even further, moving about mostly bare-chested or with a shawl draped around his shoulders, in the common manner of the country.

There was a method, of course, to this abrupt change. Gandhi wanted to, for the first time in India, make politics mass-based. This included the use of vernaculars (Pradesh Congress Committees would use the region’s language), recruiting large numbers by reducing membership fees (to a piddling 2 annas) and the use of religious symbolism (mostly Hindu but also Muslim) in order to speak to the masses in tropes they would grasp easily. Gandhi was, of course, far from being a peasant and was an upper-caste, foreign-educated lawyer. The clothing was, therefore, part of his political symbolism to reach out to the Indian masses; assure them that he was one of them.

Gandhi’s influence, like in so much else, was pervasive in the matter of clothing. So much so that the Gandhian “look” became a sort of uniform for the Indian politician. Today, of course, this get-up might have lost much of the meaning it had when it was first bought in almost a hundred years back. In fact, unintendedly, the impact might even be an adverse one: wearing a white khadi kurta, once a sign of swadeshi, is one of the key constituents in how most urbanites stereotype a “corrupt neta” today.

This uniformity in political attire might be one of the primary reasons as to why Kejriwal has broken with the tradition of Gandhian dressing and taken to Western clothes instead. As a person whose primary branding is that of an “anti-politician”, this is an obvious way to differentiate himself from the competition. If every other neta is wearing dhotis or pajamas, he dons trousers. If everyone else wears bandhgalas or kurtas, he sports a button-up shirt. So sharply does he stick out, that his clothing actually came in for special comment on the occasion of Republic Day with the media clicking their tongues at this “casual dressing”.

While being different obviously has its advantages for an outsider like Kejriwal, this symbolism goes even further, speaking directly to Kejriwal’s core support base. As Srinivasan Ramani shows in this well-argued piece in the EPW, there are two characteristics of the AAP support base. One, is that it is mostly urban: the AAP did much better in the core parts of Delhi city as compared to the more semi-urban area in the north-west of the state. The other is that, overwhelmingly, its support base is drawn from the poor, mainly jhuggies and slums populated by people working in the informal sector (migrant labour, domestic help, auto drivers etc.).

This makes the AAP unique because it is the only major party which does not have a primarily rural support base. Of course, the urban poor do not wear dhotis, kurtas, veshtis or mundus. They wear trousers and shirts (often untucked). With his sartorial symbolism, Kejriwal, like Gandhi a century before him, is seeking to connect directly with his supporters.

And while the word “symbolism” might have a slightly disparaging, even “fake” ring to it, in mass politics that’s not really the case. Communicating your message to millions of people is a terribly difficult task and symbolism plays a crucial and legitimate part in that.

In grasping this, Kejriwal seems to have shown remarkable talent as is apparent given his success in the Delhi elections. That said, his performance in the Lok Sabha elections, in terms of seats, might be far less impressive, given his fragmented urban support base and the massive electorates for each parliamentary constituency. The real story, though, would lie in the vote share he manages to garner. According to the CNN-IBN-CSDS opinion poll, AAP’s national vote share would hit 4% in the 2014 elections. A number that, when compared to the 2009 election results, would put it at an impressive fifth place.

After the euphoria of the Delhi win, a number of commentators had stepped in and calmed things down by (correctly) pointing out that the AAP’s performance, while impressive, was not unprecedented: parties like the Telugu Desam Party and the Asom Gana Parishad had managed similar electoral debuts in their states. If these predicted vote shares are accurate though, the AAP’s debut in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections would be unprecedented.

Of course, opinion poll predications are fairly unpredictable things themselves. But at this stage, broadly speaking, Kejriwal’s rise, does seem rather impressive, a small part of the credit of which could maybe be attributed to his sense of fashion. To twist the old tagline of a textile brand just a bit: there are many things which make the complete politician. Clothes are just one of them.

First published on NewsYaps

Monday, April 7, 2014

Is Bengal’s Muslim vote bank headed for Mandalisation?

The AIUDF has decided to fight the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal. Given their success in Assam, this could point to the rise of a similar Muslim formation in Bengal, along the lines of the post-Mandal caste parties of the heartland. [Read my entire piece here]

Modi and the Looming Spectre of Authoritarianism

As Ambedkar had warned, Indians have a curious predilection towards bhakti and hero-worship in politics, one that has caused the country much harm. Given Modi’s iron grip within the BJP, we must guard against repeating old mistakes.

The last few days have been especially eventful for the always hectic Modi campaign. The BJP disciplined three of its patriarchs, Advani, MM Joshi and Jaswant Singh, imposing on them firmly the party’s diktat. Advani’s move to contest from Bhopal was scotched, being seen as an attempt to prop up a Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led centre of power, one that was obviously not to Modi’s liking. Joshi was made to contest from Kanpur rather than Varanasi, where he is the sitting MP, so that Modi could contest from the holy city, touted as a “safe seat” for the BJP. And Jaswant Singh was summarily expelled over the phone when he threatened to oppose the High Command’s decision to not nominate him as the BJP candidate from his home constituency of Barmer. All three incidents point to a significant strengthening of Modi within the BJP, as all other centres of power are either made to fall in line or removed. A more subtle indication of this power shift was provided by Rajnath’s Singh’s move of replacing the “Modi” in BJP’s official slogan, Ab ki baar Modi sarkaar, with the word “BJP”. The incident was sought to be papered over by claiming that it was an inadvertent mistake but by then tongues had already started to wag. Of course, all of this is small change compared to the popular slogan “Har Har Modi”, which raises Modi, literally, to the level of god (the original slogan, “Har har Mahadev” is a celebration of Lord Shiv). When the Shankaracharya of Dwarka Peeth objected to this “vyakti puja”, Modi hurriedly advised his supporters, via a tweet, to desist from the slogan. However, this literal deification of Modi was just one of the many indicators which point to his almost complete domination of the BJP.

The last time someone held such a sway on his or her own party was when the indomitable Mrs Indira Gandhi ruled over the Congress. Appointed as a consensus candidate after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, she soon ousted the Congress old guard and took full control. An authoritarian to the core, she went about methodically increasing her personal power at the expense of various systemic checks and balances. She tried to break the independence of the judiciary, discontinuing the practise of appointing the senior-most judge as chief justice, choosing her own candidate instead. The bureaucracy was made firmly subservient to the political executive, as her secretary, PN Haksar, pushed the concept of “committed” civil servants. She also significantly eroded the federal nature of India’s polity, concentrating power in the Centre. As Bidyut Chatterjee writes in his book, Indian Politics and Society since Independence, during Indira’s rule “centre-state relations were practically reduced to a state of near non-existence and unitarism triumphed under the aegis of a strong state”.

This is, of course, not to single out Indira. In the absence of checks, power corrupts everyone and anyone. Even her father, usually hailed as a pukka democrat, had a crushing hold on his party and his government and it was probably this dominance that led to the “Himalayan blunders” of 1962—surrounded by his lackeys, Nehru’s disastrous China policy just did not have the opposition and, consequently, the balance that was needed. To go even further back, in parallel with the deification of Modi, Gandhi was hailed as a saint and awarded the title of “Mahatma”. However, even he was not averse to misusing some of this power. In 1939, Subhash Chandra Bose won the elections for the presidency of the Congress, defeating a man, who as it so happened, was the Mahatma’s candidate. Rather than accept this democratic verdict, Gandhi used his iron grip on the leaders of the Congress to get 12 of the 15 members of the Working Committee to resign. Crippled, Bose was forced to quit and leave the Congress in disgrace.

This seems to be a particular Indian trait: we love to lionise our leaders, make them into gods, literally even. On 25th November 1949, Dr Ambedkar, in his famous Grammar of Anarchy speech delivered to the Constituent Assembly, had warned of exactly this. “There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country,” he said, but also warned that “in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship. .” (emphasis mine)

India, unsurprisingly, seems to have ignored Ambedkar’s prophetic words. When Indira Gandhi first announced the Emergency, amazingly, India’s middle class actually cheered it on. Khushwant Singh wrote how it “was generally welcomed by the people. There were no strikes or hartals, schools and colleges re-opened, business picked up, buses and trains began to run on time.” Mrs Gandhi was seen as the “strong leader” India needed. Just like in 1975, even today, Ambedkar is being ignored and the Great Indian Middle Class is hankering again for a “strong leader”. This time that leader is Modi, who is to deliver India from her chaos and bedlam, ironically, by defeating Indira’s grandson at the hustings. The more things change…

Vijay Prashad, writing in The Guardian also acknowledged the authoritarianism inherent in the rise of Modi but argued that the fact that India does not have a presidential but a diffused parliamentary system of government is what will act as a check against Modi’s power should he win the elections. This, on paper, is correct. Our Westminster system, in theory, makes the government responsible to the legislature. For Modi to continue in office, he will have to have the confidence of at least 271 members of the Lok Sabha, not an easy task.

In practise, however, things are not that rosy. The peculiar way in which the executive is chosen in the Westminster system means that it must necessarily be one that enjoys the confidence of Parliament. In other words, while Parliament is meant to check the executive, given that both draw their power from the same organ, the ruling party, this is a weak check indeed. A conflict of interest is almost built into the system by default. This peculiar nature of the Westminster system was highlighted by Lord Hailsham in his now famous Richard Dimbleby Lecture at the BBC in 1976, where he memorably called this feeble arrangement of checks and balances an “elective dictatorship”. It also must be noted that the “elective dictatorship” of the UK becomes even more despotic in India, given that we have that most undemocratic of instruments, the Anti-Defection Law. In the UK, in extreme circumstances, governments could still be reined in by, say, a backbench revolt. Given that an MP in India is a slave of his party high command, such a scenario is, literally, impossible. The ruling party has full control of both the executive and the legislature, the latter farcically meant to provide a check on the former. In the US Presidential system, on the other hand, the complete separation between the executive and legislature means that even an extremely strong president can be held in check, as has happened multiple times in the current Obama administration.

It is, therefore, no surprise that this system has once allowed one individual, Indira Gandhi, to completely dominate the country, making Parliament and even institutions like the cabinet, completely subservient to her. One year before the emergency, DK Barooah had even gone so far as to proclaim that “India is Indira. Indira is India”, his sycophancy providing an apt expression of Indira’s iron grip on the government, even if not, as claimed, India. This time, Modi’s supporters and, indeed, many BJP leaders have gone even one step further, comparing him to Lord Shiv himself. And while, even if for appearance’s sake, Indira fought on the basis of slogans of development such as “gharibi hatao”, the BJP slogan is starkly Modi-centric: “Ab ki baar Modi Sarkar”, the absence of the BJP in its very own slogan being a stark reminder as to how personality-centric Modi’s campaign is.

Some might argue that Indira Gandhi is an extreme case and there is no way the BJP would even be able to get close to the number of seats the Congress held under the “Indira Wave”. This is a valid point and there is a good chance that the exigencies of coalition politics would hold in check many of Modi’s more authoritarian tendencies. Nevertheless, given his absolute power within the BJP and the harm authoritarianism has already done to India, we must keep Ambedkar’s warning in mind: “in politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation”.

First published in NewsYaps

Friday, April 4, 2014

The UPA’s Rights-Based Approach and its Impact in India

The UPA, in the past decade, has introduced a new paradigm in India’s development story: the Rights-Based Approach. This article explores the origins of this strategy and evaluates its impact on India. 

It would be a bit of an understatement to say that the UPA is in a bad way. Large swathes of public opinion have turned against it, the media uses it as a punching bag and even its own leaders are convinced of the futility of the 2014 elections. All of this is for good reason, of course. The past 5 years have been a study in how not to run a government. Nevertheless, we must give even the devil its due. For all its ills, the UPA has, with its Rights-Based Approach, enacted a paradigm shift in the way development is thought of in this country. In a crushingly poor nation such as India, it has overturned conventional modes of thinking on development, the benefits of which have been and will continue to be significant.

The philosophical basis to the Rights-Based Approach has been principally provided by economist Amartya Sen and philosopher Martha Nussbaum which is generally called the Capability Approach to development. As argued by Sen in his seminal book, Development as Freedom, development is a concept that should be directly and deeply concerned with the effective freedom – capability – of actual people to achieve the lives they have reason to value. Development, therefore, should be defined as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. Some of the freedoms as enunciated by Nussbaum include being able to live up to one’s natural life span, having good health, having one’s bodily integrity secured (freedom from assault, having control of your reproductive abilities etc) and being able to make and participate effectively in political choices. 

Traditionally, though, development has been defined in far narrower terms, the most common being conflating it with the GDP or income growth. This lovely little illusion comes crashing down using two of Sen’s favourite examples: Kerala vs. Gujarat and India vs. Bangladesh. Gujarat has a per-capita income about 11% more than Gujarat. Yet in all real parameters of human development (see table below), Kerala is streets ahead. This comparison becomes even starker for Bangladesh and India. Our eastern neighbour leads us on a number of key human development statistics in spite of India’s GNI per capita being an impressive twice that of Bangladesh.

As is apparent from these two examples, incomes can hardly be used as a proxy for measuring development. A girl child would be better off in “poor” Kerala/Bangladesh than “rich” Gujarat/India. This, of course, does not mean that higher incomes cannot coincide with development. But as Sen has repeatedly pointed out, incomes are just one of the means towards development and in no way is it a necessary and/or sufficient condition. Of course, we tend to ignore this and mistakenly treat GDP numbers as ends to development and not means, as they are.

Given this false centrality of GDP/incomes in development, welfare programmes carried out by governments and aid agencies often functioned on a ‘basic needs’ approach in which elementary requirements of target groups were identified and then aimed to be fulfilled. Of course, given the fact that ‘development’ (i.e. GDP growth) was not directly linked to those needs, the needs were not given the highest of priorities. 

Enter, the Rights-Based Approach (RBA), which guarantees freedoms as a right.  Development now is meant to increase freedoms rather than push up a number such as GDP. Unlike the ‘basic needs’ approach which did not make it mandatory to fulfil needs, rights are justiciable. This approach allows us to keep our eye on the ball, letting agencies involved with development to actually focus on making lives better rather than be obsessed with figures such as GDP which are often not even directly related to actual human development.

The UPA has implemented the Rights-Based Approach using 5 acts: the Right to Information, the NREGA (right to work), the Food Security Act (right to food), the Right to Education and the Forest Rights Act 

The RTI has probably done more to change governance in India since 1947 than any other single measure. By making information a “right” (upgraded from being just a “need”), the act has made bureaucrats responsible for stopping it, thus remedying, to some extent, the huge imbalance in power between citizens and the government.  Citizens are using this new power to crack the whip and force the state to act. 

The NREGA has ensured basic livelihood security at a scale (in 2011, it reached 215 million households) which makes its impact almost revolutionary. The act has not only ensured income security but increased wages overall and has fundamentally changed the distorted relationship between farmers and labourers, giving the latter more of a voice. The World Bank (not the most enthusiastic supporter of the RBA, it must be pointed out) has hailed the act, noting that it “illustrates how good governance and social mobilisation go hand-in-hand”. It also commends the RBA of the scheme claiming that the “fact that the law is organized as a right motivates job seekers’ collective action to hold authorities accountable for supplying employment instead of siphoning off the allocated funds”.

Apart from income security, the tertiary effects of the NREGA on rural prosperity are also manifold: just to take one example, a University of Oxford study in 2013 has found that the NREGA has a significant effect on reducing child malnutrition.

The latest entrant to the UPA’s RBA showcase is the Food Security Bill which promises that most basic of human rights: food. The Bill expands the structure of the pre-existing PDS to ensure highly subsidised grain for “up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population”. This is critical in a country such as India which has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, worse than even most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Some countries in which chronic malnutrition is less than India include Bangladesh, Tanzania and Niger. Even Rwanda, a country which has suffered the worst genocide on the planet since WWII, manages to ensure better nutrition for its children. Statistics such as these might explain Amartya Sen’s emotional plea, pointing out that the opposition and delay in passing the Food Security Bill was causing 1,000 child deaths per week.

In fact, the recent debate around the Food Security Bill (FSB) is instructive in order to observe the opposition to the RBA. This conversion of basics such as food or information from “needs” to “rights” has irked many supporters of “minimal government”. Their main argument rests around the issue of cost: is this extra financial burden sustainable?

At its core, this is a valid question: piloting schemes which bankrupt a government is not a very wise move. 

When we get down to hard numbers, though, fears that the RBA will have a significantly adverse impact financially remain quite unfounded. The FSB, as pointed out by Ashok Kotwal, Milind Murugkar and Bharat Ramaswamy, entails an extra expenditure which is less than 1% of the GDP. Similarly, the NREGA only involves a government allocation of 0.5% of the GDP. In contrast, military spending is 3% of the GDP. India’s fuel subsidy, benefiting its upper and middle classes is 1.3% of the GDP and tax subsidy to industry in the 2012 budget was a whopping 5 times of the NREGA allocation.

Clearly then, the money is there—the government RBA expenditure is a tiny part of its total expenditure and, given its impact, is money well spent—which makes opposition to these bills a bit of a mystery. 

Given its large scale impact, the UPA has clearly benefitted from its RBA approach. In 2009 the Congress won 206 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, a massive 42% increase from the 2004 results (the Rights-Based Approach Wave?). UPA 2, though, has paid far less attention to the RBA than UPA 1. It delayed the FSB significantly in contrast to the speed with which it passed the RTI and NREGA. Moreover, as Jean Dreze has pointed out, the FSB severely dilutes the RBA by allowing governments to select “eligible households” allowing for huge gaps in who does or does not benefit, thereby weakening the “rights” nature of the measure.

This, in fact, might be one reason why the UPA is so despondent about the next elections. Its forceful espousal of the RBA helped it in 2009; maybe its failure to do so during its second term will end up costing it the 2014 elections.

Given the approach’s success, it will be interesting to see whether the next government adopts it or not. Although given the UPA 2’s shabby treatment of the concept and the BJP’s ideological opposition to it, this, unfortunately, looks rather unlikely.

First published on NewsYaps