In India, time and again, our political leaders having been invoking ‘the poor’ to win elections. One can’t deny this fact, though some may only partially agree. To elaborate the point, let me recapitulate what happened in India with regard to ameliorating the fate of the poor since we achieved Independence. India launched massive rural development programs known as ‘Community Development Programmes’ on October 2, 1952, coinciding with the 83rd birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Despite the fact that the improvement in the conditions of the poor is far from being satisfactory, our politicians continue to show their great concern for the poor by devising fancy slogans for banishing their poverty. For example, our former PM Indira Gandhi won 1971 General Elections with a thumping majority by giving the slogan ‘Garibi Hatao’. She returned to power again on the plank of poverty alleviation and poor farmer’s welfare in 1980.
As luck would have it, Congress lost power again in 1996, as the great euphoria generated by the first-time economic reforms gave a feeling to the poor that the Congress has shifted its focus from poverty alleviation to economic reforms, which were considered pro-rich. This thinking amongst the poor was also fuelled by the BJP and the left parties for deriving political mileage. This helped the combined united front of several opposition parties in 1996, and then the BJP (NDA-1) in 1999. After losing in 1996, there was a clamour by the congress top brass—‘ Sonia Lao, Garibi Hatao’.
“India Shining”—NDAs slogan in 2004, never attracted the poor and they thought that the rich would be the real beneficiaries. The Congress-led UPA-1 and UPA-2 with Manmohan Singh as the PM (2004-2014) suffered a crushing defeat at the hustings in May 2014 at the hands of BJP, which used slogans like achhe Din for the poor. Also, anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare helped the BJP.
The scene has completely changed now. While BJP-led NDA-2 is going whole-hog for economic reforms, the Congress is branding it as ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ and picking up issues like farmer suicides, atrocities on Dalits and backward classes and injustices to scholars from weaker sections in the universities to give an impression that PM Modi is unmindful about the poor. PM Modi, thinking that this adverse campaign by the Congress party, has asked his team to leave no stone unturned to keep their pro-poor image intact. The latest move by the BJP on setting up new Constitutional National Commission on Backward Classes (NCBC) with special mention of inclusion of poor muslims is seen as a step to attract muslim community within its fold.
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BJP is constantly using rhetoric’s like ‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’ to woo the poor, and has wrested 10 more states after the general elections of 2014. PM Modi has now given a new slogan ‘New India’ as the changed narrative with an eye on the general elections of 2019. But, we can’t achieve ‘New India’ as enunciated by the PM, if political parties continue to announce loan waiver for farmers and other sops from cheap canteens to free laptops.
The poor need to be empowered by imparting them good education, ensuring their skill development and providing them good health and sanitation. Only these would develop capabilities in them to manage their affairs like well-offs. Politicians use the poor, in some way or the other, to win elections. They should shun taking refuge in their problems to create ‘vote banks’.
The author is Former member of ISS and Director, CSO, GOI & UN consultant. Views are personal