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.