Viksit Bharat on Course, Minus a Few Hiccups in Gyan Quartet

PM Narendra Modi, known for his strategic acumen and knack for encapsulating complex ideas into memorable acronyms, outlined the vision of ‘VIKSIT Bharat 2047’ to win over voters ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Through GYAN he aims at both developmental strides and political consolidation for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections
By Ranjit Bhushan
  • VBSY attracted 18 crore participants in 782 districts, aiming to promote awareness and full coverage of government schemes
  • A Niti Aayog report indicated a drop in multidimensional poverty from 29.17% in 2013 to 11.28% in 2022-23, raising questions about the need for universal free foodgrains
  • Bureaucrats uneasy with Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra’s political nature, citing BJP’s use of state-funded initiative for votes
  • India’s unemployment rate for those aged 15+ fell to 3.1% in 2023, the lowest in three years, NSSO report

PRIME Minister Narendra Modi, forever the master of summarizing weighty political statements in pithy acronyms, left no one in doubt about his intent to woo voters before the country goes to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in a few months’ time.

Close to year end 2023, Modi told news outlets that the target of making India ‘Viksit’ (developed) by 2047 can be achieved by focusing on GYAN — which he said stood for Garib (poor), Yuva (youth), Annadata (farmers) and Nari Shakti (women empowerment). Under ‘Viksit Bharat 2047’, PM Modi has aimed for India to transform into a developed country by the 100th year of its independence.

The media announcement came after a nationwide campaign initiated by the Prime Minister on November 15, 2023, Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra (VBSY), had seen participation of over 18 crore people in 782 districts across India in the two-and-a-half months following its inception. The yatra intends to raise awareness and achieve saturation of government schemes.

Little over a month later, when Finance Minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman underlined the same points in the Union Budget, quoting her boss, she was extending the BJP government’s 10-year outreach to the country’s most significant politico-social stratum.

THE GYAN QUARTET

In her short speech Sitharaman quoting Modi, said “we need to focus on four major castes. They are, ‘Garib’ (Poor), ‘Mahilayen’ (Women), ‘Yuva’ (Youth) and ‘Annadata’ (Farmer). Their needs, their aspirations, and their welfare are our highest priority. The country progresses when they progress. All four require and receive government support in their quest to better their lives.”
Clearly, if these four segments or ‘castes’, which constitute the bulk of Indian voters, decide to back the current dispensation, a third term for the BJP is pretty much a done deal.

The speech of the Finance Minister focused on some of these achievements that concern the common man – or as she put it, the four castes. The budget key highlights, underlined the Modi government’s spirit of persuasion:

  • Worries about food have been eliminated with free rations for 80 crore people.
  • 25 crores Indians were pulled out of multi- dimensional poverty by the government over the past 10 years, i.e. two terms of the Modi government.
  • Government could save 2.7-lakh crore through avoidance of leakages.
  • Minimum support prices (MSP) for ‘Annadata’ (farmers) increased periodically.
  • Direct financial assistance was extended to 11.8 crore farmers.
  • Female enrolment in higher education has gone up by 28 percent in 10 years.
  • Average real income has increased by 50 percent.
  • Every year under the PM Kisan Samman Yojana, direct financial assistance is provided to 11.8 crore farmers, including marginal and small farmers.
  • PM SVANIDHI has provided credit assistance to 78 lakh street vendors; from that total, 2.3 lakh have received credit for the third time.
  • PM JANMAN Yojana reaches out to particularly vulnerable tribal groups.
  • PM Vishakarma Yojana provides end to end support to artisans and craftspeople.
  • Scheme for empowerment of Divyang and transgender people.
  • Skill India Mission has trained 1.4 crore youth, upskilled and reskilled 54 lakh youth and established 3,000 new ITIs.
  • Large number of institutions of higher learning, namely seven IITs, 16 IIITs, 7 IIMs, 15 AIIMSs and 390 universities have been set up.
  • Female enrolment in higher education has gone up by 28 percent in 10 years.
  • In STEM courses, girls and women constitute 43 percent of enrolment, one of the highest in the world.
  • All these are getting reflected in increasing participation of women in the workforce.

WELFARE POLITICS

That elections were on the government’s mind was evident. For instance, the FM took the credit for continuation of commitment to distribute highly subsidised foodgrains under the National Food Security Act 2013, that was enacted by the Congress government, and which allows the government to raise the issue price after three years. Instead of revisiting the number of really deserving people, the government made it free from January 1.
Ditto for those who have come out of the poverty line. A Niti Aayog report showed that multidimensional poverty had declined from 29.17 percent in 2013 to 11.28 percent in 2022-23, prompting the obvious question as to why the government decided to make foodgrains free for all.

After assuming office, Modi has formulated a strategy revolving around the material reality that for voters, individual benefits matter more than community benefits. Some experts suggest that such strategising emerges from taking a long, hard look at the shock loss of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004

Says policy analyst Amitabh Tiwari: “Welfare beneficiaries or ‘labharthis’ have emerged as an important bloc of voters in today’s electoral arena. They have always been there but gained prominence since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s current tenure. The PM is credited with developing a loyal and committed voting bloc of ‘labharthis’, which supports the BJP cutting across religious and caste lines. Since the beneficiary community comprises the poor, downtrodden and marginalised sections of society who outnumber the middle and rich classes, this brand of welfare politics is believed to tilt the scales in favour of any party.”
This beneficiary class has several elements: it includes not only those who get direct benefits (direct benefit transfers or DBT) but also their families and a larger group of potential beneficiaries, creating in the process, an aspirational group right away. After assuming office, Modi has formulated a strategy revolving around the material reality that for voters, individual benefits matter more than community benefits or benefits from public goods. Some experts suggest that such strategizing emerges from taking a long, hard look at the shock loss of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004.

Says NR Bhanumurthy, Vice-Chancellor of the Dr BR Ambedkar School of Economics, Bengaluru: “What we see today is a continuation of an improvement in the public delivery architecture and its outcomes. The delivery outcomes improved between 2004 and 2014 and have improved even further in the last decade with this government’s stress on helping beneficiaries.”

On February 25th, in the 110th edition of his famous radio programme, ‘Mann ki Baat’, PM Modi said, “Who would have thought till a few years ago that in our country, women living in villages would also fly drones? But today this is becoming possible. Today, there is so much discussion about Drone Didi in every village

The fact that the DBT architecture has matured in the post-2014 period, cutting out middlemen, has also greatly aided the Prime Minister’s schemes. Among welfare projects, PM Awas Yojana, PM Ujjwala Yojana, Jan Dhan Accounts, PM Kisan Nidhi Yojana, Mudra Loans, PM Jeevan Suraksha Yojana, Aayushman Bharat, and others have gained great currency. During the COVID pandemic, additional free rations to 80 crore beneficiaries had gained a lot of traction, which certainly helped BJP in Bihar in 2020 and UP in 2022.

STRATEGIC OUTREACH

However, the Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra (VBSY) events have not been without their share of critics. Many bureaucrats, for example, have been uncomfortable with the political nature of the event. They have raised concerns regarding the use of a state-funded initiative by the BJP to seek votes. In one instance in UP, the BJP district chief was to be in attendance. A senior bureaucrat, who was uncomfortable with the political nature of the programme, decided to skip the event. “This is a state-funded event. It is understandable that MLAs and MPs are present but how can BJP office bearers share and seek votes from the stage,” the senior bureaucrat asked.
Haryana’s Sonipat district witnessed one such VBSY event at the community centre in the Kharkhoda Tehsil. The event site was blaring with Centre’s campaign songs, and the slogan ‘Modi Sarkaar Ki Guarantee’ via loudspeakers. Ajay Rathore, state executive member of the BJP’s Anusuchit Jati Morcha, was greeting those at the event, and requesting them to vote for Modi and the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. He was being assisted by fellow BJP workers.

THE SWAMINATHAN COMMISSION : A PATH TO FARMERS’ SECURITY

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh constituted a commission under the chairmanship of agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan in November 2004 to study the problems of farmers, which was given the name of ‘National Commission on Farmers’. The Commission submitted six reports to the government from December 2004 to October 2006

WHAT IS THE C2+50% FORMULA ON MSP?

The C2+50% formula on MSP is an idea put forward by the Swaminathan Commission to give farmers an extra 50 percent of their crop cost, thus helping them increase their income. In the current agitation, the protesting farmers are calling on authorities to reflect this formula in the MSP Guarantee Act. 

STATUS CHECK OF MSP AND MARKET VALUE

In the fiscal year 2020, the market value of agricultural produce stood at Rs 10 lakh crore and this included all 24 crops under MSP purview. However, the total MSP procurement in that year stood at Rs 2.5 lakh crore, which is just 25 per cent of the produce under MSP. If the government cedes to farmers demand for legislation, thereby according to its guarantee, the exchequer will stand to lose with additional expenditure of at least Rs 10 lakh crore annually. Notably, this amount is just short of the central government’s allocation of Rs 11.11 lakh crore, in the interim budget this year for infrastructure development, according to one calculation. 

MAIN DEMAND OF PROTESTING FARMERS

The main demand of protesting farmers is a legal guarantee of MSP for all the Kharif and Rabi crops, besides seeking a Rs 10,000 pension for farmers above 60 years of age and more. An MSP for Kharif and Rabi crops would mean that the government lays down a fixed price so that farmers get a ‘fixed’ income irrespective of the amount and quality of their crop produce. Farmers have every right to seek ‘government shield’ but MSP for every crop may not be feasible, tenable and justified, not just politically but also economically. 

Pawan Khera, Chairman Media, and Publicity of Congress, termed the BJP’s presence in the VBSY as violation of government norms. “This won’t be the first time when this government and those who take the oath of the Constitution, would be violating the very oath they took when swearing in for office. This is apart from all norms of governance. This era would go down in the history of our democracy as the darkest era where our republic came under its toughest test,” he told The Hindu.

Among the key demands of the farmers are loan waivers and the implementation of the recommendations made by the Swaminathan Commission, named after the late agricultural scientist M. S. Swaminathan, who played a pivotal role in India’s Green Revolution and was recently awarded the Bharat Ratna

NARI SHAKTI: A CORNERSTONE OF MODI’S AGENDA

The other arrow in the Modi quiver, women empowerment or Nari Shakti, is one of the prime themes of BJP’s ongoing poll campaign. On February 25th, in the 110th edition of his famous radio programme, ‘Mann ki Baat’, PM Modi said, “Who would have thought till a few years ago that in our country, women living in villages would also fly drones? But today this is becoming possible. Today, there is so much discussion about Drone Didi in every village, ‘Namo Drone Didi, Namo Drone Didi’ is on everyone’s lips. Everyone is talking about them.”

A day after women stole the limelight at the 75th Republic Day parade, the Prime Minister said the world is watching how India’s women are projecting Nari Shakti and proving their mettle in every field. Women, he said, were amply represented in every element of India’s biggest ceremonial event: in the flypast, in mechanised columns, in marching contingents, in bands and at the cultural show.

“The 75th Republic Day parade on Kartavya Path was dedicated to ‘Nari Shakti’. We have opened up opportunities for daughters in sectors where their entry was previously restricted or limited,” the PM said addressing the customary National Cadet Corps (NCC) rally at the Cariappa parade ground in Delhi Cantt. He highlighted the contribution of women to different fields including the armed forces, the country’s space programme, start-ups, banking, and insurance. The PM said the government has removed obstacles to the entry of women in different areas, while speaking about the opening of frontline roles to women in the military, including command roles, combat positions and permanent commission.

HARNESSING YOUTH POWER

Last month, the Election Commission of India said that a whopping 96.88 crore voters will cast their vote in the upcoming general elections. Significantly, it said that over 2 crore young electors in the age group 18-29 have been added in this voters list. They span the 18-19 and 20-29 age groups, making youth a potent vote bank in the forthcoming elections.
The Prime Minister has naturally stressed on youth power because 65 percent of its population is under the age of 35. “In a young country like India, our crores of youth are the biggest strength of this nation,’’ he is known to have said on more than one occasion.

Appropriately, many programmes are underway to educate and skill the youth. Under the flagship Skill India Mission launched in July 2015, several schemes are in place. The PM Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) is meant to impart skill development training through two training components namely the short-term training and upskilling through Recognition of Prior Learning. As of October 2023, over 1.4 crore youth have been trained under the scheme, an official release said. The Jan Shikshan Sansthan Scheme (JSS) skill training is imparted to nonliterate, neo-literates, and persons with rudimentary level of education up to 8th standard and school dropouts up to 12th standard in the age group of 15-45 years in both, rural and urban areas. Add to it the National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS) and the Skill India Digital initiative. In addition, there are special schemes under implementation for the sole reason of empowering minority communities. Some of these skill development schemes are Seekho Aur Kamao, USTTAD and Nai Manzil for the six notified minority communities in which a minimum 30 percent seats were earmarked for women, the official release said.
India has witnessed a substantial surge in employment opportunities, with over 1.9 crore youth actively engaged through the National Internship Portal, offering more than 29 lakh internships, the official release said.
Despite the enormity of the problem, some results have proved to be encouraging. India’s unemployment rate for individuals aged 15 and above has dropped to 3.1 percent in 2023, marking the lowest in the past three years, according to a report by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) under the statistics ministry. The unemployment rate came down to 3.1 percent in 2023 from 3.6 percent in 2022 and 4.2 percent in 2021, according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) for calendar year 2023.

If these statistics are true – and certain government figures have been subjected to uncomfortable scrutiny – then the Modi government’s attempts to woo the numerically powerful youth vote could be described as successful. In an election year, that should be considered a big advantage.

FARMERS’ CONUNDRUM

If there is one weak link in this quest for VIKSIT Bharat, it is the farmers or the Annadata. Proof of this conflagration lies on Delhi’s borders where security forces are using barricades, barbed wires, bulldozers, water cannons and even drones armed with tear gas shells to halt the farmers’ convoys heading to New Delhi.

In 2020, the farmers had spent a year-long sit-in along Delhi’s borders to protest the government’s farm laws, which were eventually repealed in 2021. But even then, the farmers had staged massive rallies against the government’s pricing policy, calling for a legal guarantee of Minimum Support Price (MSP), which would give the farming community a safety net against price fluctuations.

In the fiscal year 2020, the market value of agricultural produce stood at Rs 10 lakh crore and this included all 24 crops under MSP purview. However, the total MSP procurement in that year stood at Rs 2.5 lakh crore, which is just 25 per cent of the produce under MSP

After more than two years and no changes, many farmers now feel cheated and outraged. Two umbrella bodies — the Samyukta Kisan Morcha and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha — representing more than 200 farm unions, called a new march towards the national capital in early February this year. Soon, they realised that the roads leading to Delhi had been blocked.

Among the key farmers’ demands are loan waivers and the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations. The Commission – named after famous agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan, who fathered India’s Green Revolution and was recently awarded the Bharat Ratna – was set up in 2004 by the then ruling Congress-led UPA, and turning their conclusions into law would mean farmers get an MSP of 1.5 times of the weighted average cost of production.

The BJP promised to implement these policies after coming to power in 2014, but this pledge has not been fulfilled. Moreover, many of the farmers are resentful over the government’s tactics in quelling the protests, accusing the BJP of using brute force.

So clearly, it is a mixed bag. While GYAN quartet seems to have been adequately wooed by the Prime Minister in his second term beginning in 2019, it is not without its hiccups. The next few months would provide an answer to just how VIKSIT India would be in the years ahead.

Ranjit Bhushan

Ranjit Bhushan is a Delhi-based journalist and author.  In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.

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