Capable people do not need freebies

By Benjamin Lyngdoh

In understanding development, there is something called ‘capability approach.’ The basic premise is that it is the complete opposite of ‘welfare approach.’ In welfare, the emphasis is on giving money or commodities for uplifting of people without knowledge of the ground situation. For example, giving computers and bicycles to all people without assessing who needs a computer and who needs a bicycle is a blind intervention for development. In capability, the emphasis is on interventions for the well-being of people by leveraging on their capabilities and competencies. It is about improvements in well-being by factoring and tapping into the capability of a person. For example, do not give computers or bicycles to everyone; rather, create an enabling environment and do assessment so that those who know computers will open say a desk top publishing house and those who know how to ride a bicycle will start a home delivery business.
Although the capability approach to development can be traced to contributions by Adam Smith and Karl Marx; its contemporary application is credited to Amartya Sen. The central idea of the approach is to build on capabilities through an enabling and nurturing environment so that everyone can work on their well-being. The world at large has shifted from welfare towards capability. But, when it comes to Meghalaya, it is a matter of concern that the political parties themselves are still making people ‘slaves to welfare’.
To start with, the NPP’s FOCUS has totally lost its link with capability. The scheme is meant for farmers to produce competitive agricultural products and increase income. The inherent nature and goal of the scheme is good. But, producing competitive products also requires proper infrastructure for farming and combined with a very effective marketing network maybe in a public-private partnership mode. If the farmers are not assured of a profitable market then they would be de-motivated to produce. Also, production would be impossible in the absence of irrigation facilities, approach roads, quality checks and packaging help. The outcome is that instead of improving the capabilities of the farmers, FOCUS has turned into a mere freebie due to bad judgement by the government. It has been turned into a welfare gimmick. The ground reality is that the money is being used for all other purposes apart from farming. It is a vicious cycle with no end. The farmers who went to the FOCUS public meetings recently did so with only one objective in mind – to gain access to free and unaccountable cash. The spirit of the farmer is killed and the essence of capability for well-being silently laid to rest. The main culprit here is the MDA government.
The case of TMC Meghalaya is equally intriguing. The WE (women empowerment) and MYE (Meghalaya youth empowerment) cards promises a monthly financial return to women and unemployed youth if it comes to power. It is true that such schemes are also practiced in other countries. In fact, literature shows that this concept is mostly prevalent in developed countries. But, here lies the difference. In those countries it is known as social security scheme or unemployment allowance. Had the same nomenclatures been used here in Meghalaya too, then it would not have been too much of a problem. Openly claiming that it would provide employment and create opportunities is misleading. This is because money is not the only factor for well-being. A dynamic ecosystem is required for employment. In fact, many youth are unemployed not because of lack of money; rather, the lack of a robust investment environment, marketing problems, poor drive and motivation. In most likelihood, the TMC cards will only result in localised inflation if it is not matched with an increase in production of goods and services. The economics is simple. When you give free money to many but the supply of goods in the market remains the same, the result is inflation.
Amidst all this, the truth is that the political parties of Meghalaya are destroying the positive and hardworking mind-set of the people. Instead of looking into well-being through capabilities, the emphasis is still on welfare. To many, a party/candidate who can give money is good and vice versa. This chronic cancer is eating into the psyche of the society. Welfare mind-set rules the roost. As a result, the people have become less competitive, more lethargic, poor future outlook and with uncertain career planning. In the rural areas of Meghalaya, many parents are questioning as to why they should be sending their children to school? They see no point. The real reason for this is that we are not looking to build on the capabilities of the students. Till today, the thinking is ‘I go to school so that I can find a good job’, when in truth school and education as a whole is meant for building the capabilities, confidence and personality of the youth. This will make them capable of doing things on their own. It is of grave concern that the people at large are not looking at capability and well-being and pushing the governments to act as such. On the other hand, the political parties make merry of this fact and take full advantage of it come every election.
In Meghalaya, the solutions for well-being through capabilities development are not difficult to fathom. This is because much has not been done on these grounds. Government jobs are still there. However, there is a need to look beyond MPSC. For example, the UPSC and SSC recruitments are continuous. If we look towards these opportunities many of the youth would find employment. What is needed is a systematic intervention of coaching centres so that they are empowered to break through these competitive examinations. If this intervention is too much for the government, then a scheme of public-private partnership can help. There are many good teachers in Shillong who can help build competitive capabilities. In one discussion, a state government officer stated that if the villagers of Meghalaya were given water and roads then they would have more agricultural produce which can be marketed for their better livelihoods. He is absolutely right! If only the MDA government would FOCUS on this. The other areas are sports development to really tap into the capabilities of the sports persons. A state university so that the many that deserve good and affordable education can realise their true potential, etc. Yes, not to forget the actual tourism potential that can be achieved through better planning and strict implementation of best practices through (at least) some regulations.
In the end, as per observations it is found that the quantum of freebies has gone up in 2023 as compared to 2018. The stakes are higher now. But, the good thing is that the voices of opposition to election freebies have also increased. Is it enough to make a difference? We will come to know on March 2, 2023. (The writer teaches at NEHU; Email – [email protected])

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