India’s big, national parties vie for poor voters’ affections

Apr 04, 2019

“IT WILL BE days of joy,” says Rajmati, a health worker in Haryana state, when asked what an extra 6,000 rupees ($87) a month would mean to the poor households in her village. “It will also mean that you can survive without a husband.” Her enthusiasm is shared by the other villagers gathered in her back room, where she provides health checks, postnatal care and immunisations. One says she would use the cash to open a bangle shop. Another has more immediate aspirations: “more wheat, oil and sugar” for her seven children, and more money for their education.

Six thousand rupees, with no strings attached, is what the Congress party is promising to hand out to the poorest fifth of households if it wins power in the national election that begins on April 11th. The party’s leader, Rahul Gandhi, has described the scheme, known by its Hindi acronym of NYAY (or justice), as a “surgical strike” on poverty. In reality, it is more like dropping barrelfuls of ordnance from 30,000 feet. It also escalates the “alms race” between the national parties, which are competing to show their generosity to the poor by offering health care, debt forgiveness and cash. After the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost three state elections in December, it rushed to alleviate rural disgruntlement, pledging to pay 6,000 rupees a year to farmers with less than two...

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