TODAY -

Cong on cautious path

Shivaji Sarkar *



Indian National Congress has come out with a manifesto that looks pompous and well-intentioned but less original and more reactive to the present policies. The party is cautious even as it says it may replace NEP but is subdued on proposed novel path to deal with the sliding economy, eloquently silent on PSUs and unnecessary 4-year-BA degree modelled on the highly expensive US model.

It notes overall dissatisfaction over NEP but limits it to “will revisit and amend the New Education Policy (NEP) after consulting with the state governments”. Does it mean the 4-year degree course will continue? Its scraping could have highlighted deep concerns to instil confidence in the youth, each of who would spend at least Rs 3 lakh a year extra and be delayed for job market.

Overall, from unheard of four-year nursery – to new four-year-degree – a child loses four years during education. Congress could have highlighted the unnecessary fourth year at the degree level to cost two crore aspirants’ additional expenditure of Rs 6 lakh crore a year? If four years lost over the period are calculated in financial and social terms it’s unfathomable.

It avoids a word on PSUs. The Nav Sankalp Economic Policy resets the button with “3-W”s - work, wealth and welfare for reviewing GST - hope of most small traders, promoting manufacturing and making jobs the cornerstone, rejecting jobless growth. A new orientation since 1991. Its definition of work is the same as in the present - self-employment and starting business.

It highlights that RBI finds 60 percent of central projects stalled causing a cost escalation of Rs 5 lakh crore. It could have said these would be scrapped. On labour laws too the party is evasive on undoing the amendments denying them the rights.

On corruption, it says, “will probe demonetisation, Rafale deal, Pegasus spyware, the Electoral Bonds scheme and bring to law those who made illegal gains through these measures”. Rahul Gandhi at launch said electoral bonds showed that political funding to the BJP was through “extortion and putting “pressure” on the corporates. Welcome move. It has also promised reversal of Agnipath army recruitment.

In most such opposition promises, it was observed that once in government, the issues are shelved and some may even say these were “jumlas” as manifestos have turned out. Some probes have been mere witch hunting. In December 2013, the GST was stalled terming it anti-people but once in power, those who stalled hurriedly enacted it at the world’s highest rates.

The party is forthright on highlighting the abysmal Manipur situation, a silver lining. The 1971 Congress manifesto is remembered to the day for its classic “Garibi Hatao” slogan. The slogan five “Nyaya”, may be a good idea but are not inspiring. It calls for five pillars of justice– Justice for Youth, Justice for Women’, Justice for Farmers, Justice for Workers, and Justice for Shareholders.

What is so great about it, if it has to counter mumkin hai! The convenor P Chidambaram has been criticising government performances in his newspaper columns and even challenged the new statistics. It does not reflect in his document.

It even does not question the figures of the 3-trillion economy which has a high repayment of Rs 10 lakh crore and reduces Rs 47 lakh crore 2024-25 budget to Rs 37 lakh crore. The 7 percent growth figures are being questioned by the World Bank.

The communication could have been sharper. It could have highlighted the weaker consumer sentiments than five years back as RBI’s Consumer Confidence Survey denotes. In 2024, fewer people report improvement in employment or income.

The middle class is promised stable income-tax. It does not promise that it would be at the level of 22 percent corporate taxes. To combat unemployment, Congress has guaranteed a one-year apprenticeship with a private or a public sector company to every diploma holder or college graduate below the age of 25 years.

The wages of workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act will also be increased to Rs 400 per day – the minimum national wages it announces. It seems to have forgotten that the apprenticeship scheme was introduced by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s. Repeated several times. Each time it was a cropper as the private sector never liked it and PSUs were lukewarm.

Railways are on the path of Air India disaster with dynamic fare aimed at boosting air travel. All metros in the country except Kolkata are running in losses. Manifesto could have harped on it and suggested pocket and eco-friendly solutions like inexpensive elevated trams replacing money guzzlers.

Caste-based census could help it politically to an extent but that cannot be a road map for creating jobs. It has got into the trap of caste politics.

It has spoken of high petrol prices, questioned “cess” raj but is silent on atrociously high petrol road cess toll of Rs 32.9 per litre introduced promising to abolish toll gates. The country needs freedom from extortionist toll collections of over Rs 10 lakh crore through cess and toll gates causing high inflation.

Similarly, it is silent on scrapping illicit law for car/tractor junking and high education fees. These cause enormous wealth loss to farmers and average families. With a bit of empathy it could have touched millions of hearts. It is a whale of political opportunity to cater to the people.

It has done well to promise that job applications would not have any fee. The call for opening more Kendriya Vidyalayas, Navodaya Vidyalayas and Kasturba Gandhi Girls schools are reassuring.

The move to introduce free education up to class ten is appropriate. Would it be so also in private public schools? It has a model in UP. In the 1960s, the Congress government introduced the system of paying teachers’ salaries even for private schools ushering in required changes in the education scenario. That brings the fundamental difference.

It has decided to review the Telecommunications Act, 2023 and remove the provisions that restrict freedom of speech and expression that violate the right to privacy. It ignores the more draconian Bharat Samhita or other amendments to the Indian Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code. The powers to misuse ED, CBI and other bodies emanate from it.

Still the promise to have a fearless society may raise hopes. The nation aspires that with these new moves the political discourse would turn for the better.


* Shivaji Sarkar wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on April 13 2024.



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