As election arrives in West Bengal, the political parties  have  declared their poll manifestos  and  direct cash transfers remain as a  significant focus in  the pre-poll promises. While the Trinamool Congress(TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) have mostly focused on  cash transfers, left and congress have emphasized on human rights & democratic rights,  job creation, safety of women  and action against domestic violence.

The Bharatiya Janata Party( BJP) had stated that they will provide Rs.10,000 per year to refugee families  for the next five years if they come to the power,subject to the fact that  these families will have to  identify themselves as refugees through the Citizenship Amendment Act.  BJP has also promised an annual cash transfer of Rs.6000 and accidental insurance cover upto  Rs.3 Lakh  for the 4 lakh households from the fishermen community of the state. The party has also declared that they will implement PM KISAN in West Bengal, pay arrears to the eligible farmer households i.e farmers from small and marginal categories  and will allocate supplementary budget to ensure  that landless  families get  Rs.4000 per year from the scheme.

In addition  to this, BJP had also promised to allocate supplementary allocation  from the state’s kitty  to  MGNREGA  in order to ensure 200 days of work  for each household under the programme in Scheduled Tribe(ST) dominated blocks. They have also announced that   they will provision for better wages for the tea garden workers and  declared that wages will be increased to Rs.350 per day from the current rate of Rs.176 per day. However, It is derisive that while  Bharatiya Janata Party led government at the centre had refused to act on  relentless demands from the civil society and the opposition on boosting NREGA nationally by increasing work days and implementing living wages, it is now promising worker’s welfare in  their election manifesto.

The saffron party has also promised to set up community kitchens ( Annapurna Canteen as they named it)  for feeding destitute citizens  at  Rs.5 per meal. However, this is a model adapted first by the left which had started “Shramajeevi Canteens”  during the lockdown  to feed destitute families and migrant workers and  sustained the initiative even after  the lockdown. Later on, the Trinamool congress had  very recently started Maa Canteens  right before elections and now the BJP had promised to set up community kitchens  along similar lines. The irony is, neither TMC nor BJP had thought of feeding  the vulnerable people during lockdown  despite having  the resources for doing so.

The Trinamool, on the other hand had proposed a cash transfer scheme for all households of the state  in their poll manifesto. They have announced that  about 1.6crore  households belonging to general  category will get  Rs 500 per month and all scheduled caste and scheduled tribe families will get  a monthly allowance of Rs.1000 from the government.

Trinamool congress had also announced that  they will  implement  PM KISAN  and will increase the incentives to Rs.10000 per family  from the  state budget.

However, no party has clarified  how these  additional budgetary needs will be managed  to accommodate for these  proposed schemes.

It is important to note that the  Trinamool Congress led government in West Bengal  have time and again provided special aids to individuals  or  collectives  during  last 10 years.  They have handed out about Rs. 1300crore to different local clubs across Bengal since coming to power  in 2011.  In 2012, One year after coming to power, the TMC government had given Rs.2 Lakh each to about 26,000 local clubs and each of these clubs continued to get Rs.1 Lakh  for the next three years. In the last 10 years the West Bengal government had supported 37,000 local  clubs financially  and  in 2020, the government had handed out Rs.50,000 each to several local club committees for  organizing  Durga Puja  and ended up spending about 83crore from the  state kitty.

The TMC government in a controversial decision in 2013, had decided to provide Rs.2500 per month   to the Imams( Muslim Clerics)  as a special allowance  and Rs.1000 per month to the muezzins. The decision  was criticized by many public intellectuals and opposition political parties as appeasement to a specific community for electoral gains.

In this context it is important to understand the difference between social welfare and dole politics. While many economists, public intellectuals, social workers and activists have time and again demanded for special benefits,  financial aids for socially and economically weaker sections of the society,  the political parties  over the years have taken the idea of social welfare to a completely different trajectory which resulted into populist and appeasement politics. The idea of  handing out doles to certain individuals  or collectives for electoral benefits is not new to the political discourse  and have intensified over time.

The social movements   and strong political advocacy by  the progressive socio-political  forces have been able to  influence in inception of policies like National Food security Act( I.e Public distribution system, Mid-day Meal, Integrated Child development scheme and Maternity  entitlements) , Social security pensions for senior citizens, persons with disabilities , widowed women  and other vulnerable communities,  National Rural Employment Guarantee Act ensuring 100 days of guaranteed employment for rural adults. The PM KISAN scheme  too, for ensuring Rs.6000 per year for the small and marginal farmers have been lauded by many development economists and public intellectuals although the scheme was announced right before the Loksabha Elections  in 2019 to lure the farming community.

The social welfare programmes are targeted at specific vulnerable communities across caste, class creed  and gender which are  likely to address  immediate survival needs  and support citizens  through their existential crisis, lack of livelihoods,  access to quality education and healthcare. The welfare programmes  are often directed to support most vulnerable people and destitute citizens who have no other means to sustain themselves. People with permanent disabilities, senior citizens, single women with no resources for production are examples of  such  categories. They need  life long support system for living with dignity and the elected government has the responsibility to ensure the same.

The idea of social welfare  emerged from the need to re-inforce  state’s responsibilities in  ensuring human well being. Thus, State’s role in economic empowerment, social justice, social reformatory actions and special services  to specific marginalized communities is important to enable all citizens  in having  right to life as per article 21 of the constitution of India and  the right to food,  right to work  &dignified wages and  right to dignified living conditions flow from the very principles of our constitution.

On the other hand, The dole politics aims at luring specific individuals or collectives who  can then influence their  respective communities or  social acquaintances  for electoral gain of particular political parties. The appeasement politics or the dole centric patronage politics  promotes divisions in the society, creates social conflicts among different groups and have no impact on social-economic growth of the citizens. Social welfare programmes on the contrary works towards promotion of a just and equitable society, supporting the  less privileged, marginalized  and most vulnerable communities.

It is well known that it is prudent to  expand  scope of employment, improve the quality of education , healthcare and improve public infrastructure in order to trigger growth  while welfare benefits act as  a tool for supporting the weaker sections  and help them cope with their  immediate distresses.  Legislations like NREGA  and NFSA were targeted to stave off extreme poverty and hunger and ensure immediate food and  cash  for the needy.

The cash transfers/ allowances proposed by TMC and BJP both in  their respective poll manifestos, are nothing but election gimmicks and they lack the  vision  to empower citizens and  bring about growth in the society. The stand alone announcements for special treatment to  specific individuals or specific communities are aimed towards electoral gains and not part of a long term developmental strategy. The BJP and TMC have never cared for people centric economic policies  and they do not have a vision for the welfare of people in the long run. Such  sporadic and selfish political actions will only create more divisions in the society   and will weaken the already fragile  developmental foundation of the country. The lack of attention towards employment, education , health care services and building quality  public infrastructure will  impact human well being severely . More over, the lack of political will of these parties to deal with  non-transparency, bureaucratic high handedness and leakages in implementation will  result in negative growth.  Thus, the dole politics in West Bengal may attract a few votes but  the state’s current   politics and policies are contrary to the idea of  social welfare and development at large.

Debmalya Nandy is working in Jharkhand and odisha with the tribal population for the past 10 years and specially on MNREGA and other social security programme.


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