Challenges Modi faces:

Will Budget give Sops or are new taxes inevitable?



                                                         By Lalit Sethi


In spite of winning absolute majority in the 17th Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi realizes that he faces a number of challenges in his second term. It is not a bed of roses, though not even a crown of thorns he wears.

 The Government is concentrating on the work in hand that is financial business and its economic goals. The Budget Session of the new Parliament, which has been joined   into the Monsoon Session, is being sought to be kept low key as the government is keeping the Opposition informed about its plans.

Yet, what are the priorities of the new Budget? Has it to be full of sops for the people, the farmers, the poorest of the poor, housing, shelter, toilets, schools for children, health care, roads, especially village roads, wells, water bodies, rain harvesting, and bank deposits of Rs. 6,000 into the accounts of all small farmers. The Rural Development Minister in the Modi Sarkar has claimed that tens of millions are now receiving the money; and under the Jana Dhan Yojana, says 320 million new bank accounts have been opened between 2015 and 2019.

Or has the Finance Minister to mobilize taxes in a big way to finance all the promises the new Government has made?  The treasury needs tons of money to keep its word. It claims that the work the Modi Government has done and is now promising with redoubled efforts has won it the 2019 General Elections. Its promises are not empty. It has lived up to them and is redoubling its endeavours to keep the pledges it has been making and is making every day.

By the year 2022 it really hopes to double the farmers’ incomes because 500 million poor women farmers are doing a yeoman’s job on their tiny farms and earning up to Rs. 5,000 a year. The Government claims that alone will double the poorest farmers’ income. Rural Development Minister Tomar claims that even West Bengal has been doing good work on making rural roads and housing for the poor in spite of being ruled by an Opposition party.

Yet why are farmers committing suicide in large numbers? Is it because 30 per cent of the people of India are poorly fed or starving? Is it because 56 per cent of all farm land is dry land or parched and 33 to 50 per cent or even more of India faces acute water shortage, with Tamil Nadu having had no rain for 90 days or more.

Could the Modi Government find solutions to these problems in the weeks, months and years to come? It thinks and claims it could, but the ground realities are harsh. They know it even as they claim that food grain production has risen from 30 million tons in 1947 to 280 million tons a year in 2018, but the population has risen from 320 million to at least 1.3 billion this year. That is five times in population and nine times in grain production.

Yet the farmer is not paid a remunerative price for his produce. He cannot even sell all his produce; much of it has to be destroyed. Yet the Government says that in keeping with the Swaminathan Commission report, the farmer must be paid one and half times the cost of growing food grain and all  produce. The big farmers owning more than five to ten hectares or acres grow flowers and horticulture or exotic organic vegetables and fruits; not all of them earn good prices, but there is much wastage all around as harvests remain on the ground uncared.

The Prime Minister would like to avert regular disruptions and walk-outs during the Budget Session. He has sought cooperation of the Opposition and even offered to recognize the Congress as the regular Opposition and its leader even though the Congress is short of three members of the required 55 seats. Mr. Modi has also stated that it is not the large majority of numbers in the House he has that matters, but the debating skills of the members that ultimately count and he would wish to keep that point in mind in his dealings with the Opposition.

The Congress Opposition has responded to that point graciously and offered to cooperate on issues of national interest, but not the one on Triiple Talaq faced by Muslim women. Will the ruling party go slow on that issue since it lacks the numbers in the Rajya Sabha where voting on Bills becomes crucial if they have to be enacted by both Houses.

The Opposition and the National Democratic Alliance might feel that Mr. Modi has shown a degree of arrogance by treating them with disdain.  The Government   started its innings by releasing the draft of the New Education Policy, but quickly withdrew the threat to impose Hindi as the link language in place of English and even modified the three language formula.

After that withdrawal, it asked West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, to report on the deteriorating law and order situation in her State. She responded by saying that it was all right, but the Centre had already received reports from the Governor. There appeared to be a lurking threat of imposition of President’s Rule or Governor’s Rule, but the Centre appears to have held back the threat as it could be counter-productive because such a step would have led to countrywide protests and created tension, especially during the Budget Session of Parliament.

But even the dealings with NDA allies of the BJP like Janata Dal United, Shiv Sena and Ram Vilas Paswan have been far from smooth. JDU wanted two Cabinet positions as a coalition partner at the Centre, it was offered just one. The crafty Nitish Kumar declined even one seat and instead expanded the State Cabinet in coalition with the BJP, but offered no new position to BJP allies in the State. Shiv Sena and Paswan accepted one ministerial position each at the Centre, and continue to be unhappy. The BJP ties with National Democratic Alliance are far from smooth. Will they be papered over? Time will tell.


(Lalit Sethi is a journalist of long standing and a commentator on political and social issues)



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