But Is It Enough To Win The Votes?
Five years ago, just before the last general election, we wrote about trying to understand the mood, post-NREGA, in rural India: “It’s like looking out of a passenger train window late at night wondering whether those lights shining far, far away are for real.” In the autumn of 2013, on the back of a good monsoon, a beleaguered UPA is looking at those faraway lights with hope—it has managed to clear two ‘game-changer’ legislations, the Food Security and Land Acquisition Bills. Even if dubbed ‘populist’, they do hold and acquire meaning in a poor country. But will they balance out UPA’s slide in urban India barely 10 months away from another general election?
Well, if the reports from Outlook’s correspondents from seven states—vast and populated—are any indication, the air is thick with fear, rumour, anger and, not surprisingly, indifference. Villagers in drought-prone Maharashtra are scared that possessing mobile phones will bar them from food security benefits. The absence of potable drinking water appears to be a bigger concern in the Nehru-Gandhi family pocketboroughs in UP, even as they are clueless about the two bills. And villagers in Chhattisgarh would rather credit the state government—which runs a fine public distribution system—for food security. Finally, it confirms there’s seepage and corruption on the ground; and that farmers see themselves as victims.
These voices are important because there is outrage in urban areas on how much more the food security legislation subsidy will cost (actually, the additional cost of just foodgrain will be Rs 25,000 crore a year). Concerns are being raised on how the land acquisition norms will hurt business interests. Voices from rural India have been absent from these debates—the concerns of hundreds of millions of people living close to subsistence levels should be factored in. The UPA’s eagerness is evident, for it appears to have ceded urban areas electorally—and is trying to shift the focus to the great unknown of ‘real India’.
It’s not going to be easy to transmit these legislations into electoral gains. Take the land bill. Acquisition of land takes place in only 1 per cent of the state. It doesn’t affect the rest of the landscape—whether small farmers, or landless peasants who never had anything to be disinherited from anyway. But “land is scarce in India and will only get scarcer”, so the bill is important, says economist Yogendra Alagh. “The argument is that if everybody is benefiting (from land appreciation), including the company, why not the landowners.” So, the bill cannot automatically guarantee votes.
As things stand, the food security bill too will only make an electoral difference on the margins. States where the pds works well—many of which are Opposition-ruled states like Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh—may see competition with the Centre to appropriate gains. And in states where the pds is more dysfunctional, the voter will probably be guided by other considerations. “Let’s face it—in six months, the government won’t be able to improve delivery. Will the voter be influenced by sheer propaganda? It’s difficult to say,” says National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena.
Complicating matters is the competing demands from different states. Later this month, the state food ministers are going to thrash out the rules of the food security bill. Everything a state currently spends on providing food subsidy will be ‘supported’ by the Centre—this amendment in the new bill was included to ensure that states such as Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu, which offer universal cover and voluntarily go beyond subsidised cereals, are not adversely impacted. That’s why the spin doctors will be working at multiple levels. Hopefully, the voter will know which of those twinkling lights are real—and which not.
By Sunit Arora with Pragya Singh and Arindam Mukherjee
Clearly, the Congress is banking on there being two Indias: one urban and one rural (How Many Grams to a Scale, Sep 16). They are hoping that the rural mangoes will be happy with two ‘monumental’ bills enacted. However, the related ground reportage should inject some caution! The urban middle class now has a sway over that many more seats.
Clearly this author as well as the Congress party are banking on there being two Indias urban and rural.They are hoping that the rural mangoes will be happy with two 'monumental' bills enacted!However related on the ground reportage (appended to this piece) does not sound encouraging.On top there is this anger among the urban middlle class which was palpable to even Rahul Baba.Add to it the revultion and anger at the plethora of scams, venalities, skullduggeries of the UPA 1 and 2, plus the economy in doldrums causing untold suffering due to inflation and the picture seems complete.Herculean lies plus effort by the secular media/mafia might be rquired to brainwash both urban and rural mangoes.So we will see a veritable flood or articles/opinions/analysis/blogs all ained at the mango brain and its laundering!!
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