In one fell swoop, Rahul Gandhi has changed the political agenda, sending panic waves across the BJP-led NDA camp. The hate campaign that enveloped the BJP propaganda machine by polarising Hindu-Muslim communities had vitiated the socio-cultural atmosphere in the country.
Even the air strikes on Pakistani terror camps were being used to promote hatred against our neighbour. For Narendra Modi and his party, Pakistan is synonymous with Muslims in India. That is why, those who differ with the government or the Sangh Parivar and oppose their poisonous machinations are contemptuously asked to go to Pakistan.
It appears that the BJP thinks that all Muslims in India are covert or overt agents of Pakistan. In the last five years, the government has virtually created “psychological partition” which has divided minds and societies. In Gujarat, there is a partition of people in various ghettos. If the BJP comes to power again, this “Divisive Gujarat Model” will be followed all over the country. That is why the minorities in the country are feeling insecure.
The real problems that people face are not religious pride, building of Ram Mandir or criminalisation of Triple Talaq. What the BJP has done over the years is to create artificial enemies, promote hatred in the air and cunningly erase the real problems of survival, of aspirations, of growth, of unemployment and of weekly or monthly assured income. As the famous saying goes, “I am because I earn”. Or in straight and simple language, “I cannot exist without regular income which can support me and my family”.
The condition of the bottom 20% of the people in India, that is, of over 25 crore people across five crore families, is miserable. There is cynical criticism that Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi Hatao” politics failed and that is why Rahul Gandhi had to come with the so-called “Follow On”.
The reality is that the poverty in India was acute and in 1971, nearly 45% of the people were living under miserably poor conditions. At the time, population of the country was about 50 crore plus.
Today it is 125 crore plus. The middle class population at that time was just around 10%, that is about five crore. Today, the middle class in the country is nearly 45%. That means over 35 crore. It can be seen that the middle class population has grown from five to 35 crore, which means seven times more. All these families were poor or lower middle class. Their lives were characterised by low income, low nutrition, small houses, slums or chawls, children being denied higher education, poor health condition, etc.
For these 35 crore people, lifestyle, standard and quality of life improved radically. Those who could not afford bicycle then, today flaunt motorbike or a car or two. Those who somehow lived in crowded chawls or in slums today live in 2 BHKs or bigger places. So poverty did disappear for them. But with unprecedented growth in population, the poverty could not be eradicated totally. Unemployment also was a problem.
The inequality and poverty are like a double whammy, just as unemployment and family income crisis. The total marginalisation of these people led to another type of class division. The middle class and the poor. A section of the middle class which prospered disproportionately thought that their success and wealth was a reflection of their abilities and cleverness. This class has at least one member of the family abroad. It could be the US or the Gulf countries.
Thus a “new-middle class” began to evolve. The inequality syndrome also led to a “new poor class”. The new middle class was competing with the well off sections of the western middle or rich class. The new poor on the other hand was getting into the trap of sub-Saharan poverty. No job or farm land and so no income,therefore not enough food, no health facility, and hence no long life, no question of education or a reasonable quality of life.
Rahul Gandhi’s new scheme of giving ₹72,000 per year to this class will help them to emerge out of this trap. It is estimated that nearly 25 crore people will be lifted from the poverty-inequality-misery trap.
The cynical media and the anti-Congress political class were bound to pounce on the scheme. But they did not realise that universal basic income idea was also suggested by famous economist and former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramaniam. The Modi government neglected the suggestion. But Rahul Gandhi’s scheme goes beyond the one suggested to the Modi government. Even renowned economist Thomas Piketty has proposed a similar policy frame.
For a country of India’s size and her population, if such radical welfare policies are not undertaken, the country will slowly gravitate towards civil war. The poor versus rich and middle class, the urban vs rural, industrial vs agricultural, the Hindus vs non-Hindus, the upper castes vs the lower castes, men vs women, unemployed vs employed and so on.
India is not just a country of a million mutinies, but she is an explosive semi-continent. If not contained, the nation will disintegrate into splinters. The threat is not academic or intellectual. It is palpable. It is real. It is on the horizon. But we can fight this with wisdom, with compassion and with love.
Rahul Gandhi has embarked on this mission. It is a new class war, with a new message, that not of violence and communal divisiveness, but one of compassion over insensitivity, affection over hatred and unity over fragmentation.
The Congress party will have to learn this new politics. Policy succeeds only with political will. Private ambitions will have to be given up. New ideas will have to be spread. The Congress has the task and responsibility to implement it. If the party cadre fails in understanding and implementing it, it will only harm the party and the nation.
(The writer is a senior journalist and a Rajya Sabha member)