India opposition pledges minimum income guarantee to woo voters

Describing it as the world's largest minimum income plan, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said 20 per cent of poor families across the country would receive 72,000 rupees annually if the party comes to power.
Describing it as the world's largest minimum income plan, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said 20 per cent of poor families across the country would receive 72,000 rupees annually if the party comes to power.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - India's main opposition Congress party has promised income support for each poor family who earn less than 12,000 rupees (S$235.07) per month as part of its electoral giveaways aimed at wresting power from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling coalition.

Describing it as the world's largest minimum income plan, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said 20 per cent of poor families across the country would receive 72,000 rupees annually if the party comes to power.

"It is an extremely powerful, dynamic and well-thought through idea," Mr Gandhi said at a press conference in New Delhi on Monday (March 25), adding that 50 million families, or 250 million people, will benefit from the scheme.

"The final assault on poverty has begun. We will wipe out poverty from the country."

Congress's pledge comes as Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party is banking on about 220 million Indians it says directly benefited from the government's flagship programmes - providing toilets, electricity connections, houses, cooking gas, crop insurance and loans for small businesses.

GROWING DISENCHANTMENT

The Congress, which won just 44 seats in 2014's national vote versus Mr Modi's 282, is looking to leverage recent state election victories that came on the back of widening disenchantment over Mr Modi's policies on jobs and agriculture.

"The catch here is, how would they find out who makes how much given the nature of India's informal economy?" said Mr Abhijit Sen, Delhi-based economist and former member of India's Planning Commission. "Unless you can measure that, it sounds like a very preliminary, undergraduate exercise."

 
 

India's general elections will take place in seven phases between April 11 and May 19, with results to be announced on May 23.

The Congress party is also likely to pledge a one-time farm loan write off and focus on "have nots" in a bid to win voters.

It's also considering a plan to provide income for landless farmers and agricultural workers, said Mr M.V. Rajeev Gowda, convener of the panel drafting the Congress's manifesto.

"It's a fiscally prudent scheme," said Mr Gandhi, adding that the party had consulted renowned economists and experts before finalising the programme.