India’s Rahul Gandhi pledges ‘minimum income’ for poor

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi's campaign promise is a step towards a universal basic income that some economists have supported instead of subsidies for the poor.
Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi's campaign promise is a step towards a universal basic income that some economists have supported instead of subsidies for the poor.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India’s opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said on Monday (Jan 28) that his party will introduce a “minimum income guarantee” for the poor if it returns to power in elections this year.

The election, due by May, will see the scion of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty seek to unseat Mr Narendra Modi as prime minister in the country of 1.25 billion people still ravaged by poverty.

“We cannot build a new India while millions of our brothers & sisters suffer the scourge of poverty,” Mr Gandhi, head of the opposition Congress party, said on Twitter.

“If voted to power in 2019, the Congress is committed to a Minimum Income Guarantee for every poor person, to help eradicate poverty & hunger. This is our vision & our promise,” he said.

Mr Gandhi did not elaborate on his promise, but Indian media reported it would be along the lines of universal basic income (UBI), a concept attracting growing interest around the world.

UBI – supported by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg among others as a way to reduce inequality – involves people being given a flat lump sum by the state instead of subsidies and social security payments.

It has been tried out in several countries including Finland and Kenya, and has been promised by the ruling party of the small northern Indian state of Sikkim as well as Italy’s new populist government.

Mr Gandhi’s announcement was also seen as an attempt to steal a march on Mr Modi ahead of the announcement on Friday of his government’s final Budget before the election.

This is widely expected to include sweeteners to voters, including to farmers who have been hit hard by falling prices for their produce and unpredictable weather, with thousands killing themselves in recent years.