As the poll date comes closer it was a matter of joy that the debate has turned into issues of daily life like power, water, roads, health and the basic issue of poverty. The BJP Government had announced a subsidy for farmers before the code of conduct came into operation. Earlier they had launched a health scheme and provided gas cylinders to the poor in the rural areas. To try to beat them all, the Congress has now come out with the minimum income scheme, which was described as a surgical strike against poverty.
The shift to economic welfare schemes instead of talking about issues which divide the country, to say the least, is a happy development. It takes India along the path enjoyed by developed countries where election issues are social welfare and economic development. Issues relating to defence of the country or religion are not considered a matter of concern in polls as the nation is expected to deal with them by general consensus.
There have been unusual elections like the one after a Rath Yatra was undertaken by the BJP leader L.K Advani to Ayodhya as a part of movement to build a temple there or the one which happened after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi or one after emergency was called off by Indira Gandhi. Other polls have been a contest based on economic issues by the country. BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called an election before schedule based on the slogan “India Shining”.
Congress party had won polls by calling for “Garibi Hatao” or end poverty and nationalisation of privately owned banks. The BJP government had also launched schemes like opening zero balance accounts, besides free LPG cylinders to the poor and many other schemes, including reservation of jobs on the basis of economic criteria. As such the debate on Minimum income scheme proposed by Congress is continuation of the same process. The scheme, which was seen by a former Governor of Reserve Bank of India, has been described as a surgical strike on poverty.
Debate on all schemes mentioned above will be turned healthy during polls instead of debating on issues like the temple at Ayodhya or any issues which divide the country on communal lines. India has many serious issues relating to economy. We have a large population below poverty line, farmers’ distress, unemployment on a large scale, lack of health facilities, poor quality of roads, shortage of water to list some points.
It will take a long time before India will be able to provide a decent standard of life for its people. India continues to rank very poorly as compared not only to countries of Europe or even Asia. As such there is urgent need to direct all our attention to improve the standard of living. In-fighting or denying women or low caste people the right to work and equality of opportunity could mean missing the sopportunity for progress.
India also faces major challenges like climate change, pollution of air and rivers. These challenges are formidable; as such there is no time to waste on issues which affect our progress. India is also a country which lacks resources for its defence. Our army, Air Force and the Navy are unable to modernise because our allocations for the defence budget is among the lowest for some countries around us . We also have not made much progress in making the equipment for them indigenously.
The import of equipment is not only costly, but is subjected to restrictions of use and other disruptions. A time has come when political parties should debate and work for economic development. Build up a consensus on defence and foreign policy. No one political party can solve issues relating to defence. If India has survived as a nation, it is because of democracy, respect for all communities and regions. India presents a model of unity in diversity and this alone can take country on the road to progress.
Talks about ventures in space are unlikely to impress voters as we are at least 12 years behind China and may not generate new jobs. India needs basics and not adventures.
(Brij Bhardwaj is a veteran journalist and commentator)