India’s principal opposition Congress party has promised a minimum income guarantee scheme and a separate farmers’ budget among a slew of promises unveiled in a populist manifesto for the upcoming 2019 general elections.
Outlining his party’s poll promises, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said on Tuesday that, if elected to power, his party will unveil the ‘NYAY’ minimum income scheme, which promises a monthly cash handout of Rs 6,000 for 5 crore of India’s poorest families.
Back-of-the-envelope calculations show that an annual handout of Rs 72,000 per family will cost the exchequer Rs 3.6 trillion a year.
The party hopes that the populist measures will help it in its bid to get back into government five years after it lost power to Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party.
The proposal for the NYAY scheme comes even as the incumbent Modi government has begun implementing a scheme to directly transfer Rs 2,000 every four months into the bank accounts of small farmers. The scheme was unveiled in the interim budget earlier this year.
The Congress party also said that its key focus areas would be youth, farmers, women, education, healthcare, industry, SMEs, women and foreign policy. Pollution, the party says, will be treated as a national health emergency.
On jobs, the Congress promises to fill 22 lakh government vacancies if voted to power, even as it talks of making doing business easier. Gandhi also said that as many as 10 lakh rural youth will be given jobs in village panchayats, or local self-governance bodies.
The Congress party also promised to increase the minimum number of days for which work is offered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to 150 from 100 days currently.
As a counter to the Modi government’s flagship health insurance scheme Ayushman Bharat, Gandhi said that his party does not support the idea of including private insurers to deliver quality healthcare to the poor and that his party’s government will upgrade government hospitals to world-class standards instead.
Interestingly, while unveiling the manifesto, Gandhi was silent on the issue of national security, which has been central to public discourse following the attack on the Indian paramilitary forces in February at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir. The attack left more than 40 soldiers dead and sparked a military conflict between India and Pakistan.