When the Congress, with all the enthusiasm of a new convert, announced that it was going the whole hog on the direct cash transfers scheme, it appeared both party and government were on the same page.
While Rahul Gandhi said the scheme would not only enable the Congress to win the elections in 2014, but also in 2019, the finance minister was busy counting the shekels he would save by eliminating bogus recipients of subsidies. And Jairam Ramesh, the Rural Development Minister, even announced the party’s election slogan: ‘Aapka paisa, aapke haath.”
However, it now appears that the right haath does not know what the left haath is doing. If the early idea was to replace food and other subsidies in kind with cash in the bank, the growing talk of introducing a Food Security Bill – which is about putting rice, wheat and coarse grains in the jholas of the poor - means the government is in two minds.
Ila Patnaik, writing in The Indian Express, brings out this schizophrenic thinking by wondering if the government knows what it really wants.
Explaining the diametrically opposite philosophies that drive cash transfers and delivery of subsidised food, she says: “Surely, it is clear that there is a contradiction between the philosophy (sic) of the two. The strategy of cash transfers, when it means giving money to poor households to bring them above the poverty line, is based on the philosophy that households should be free to choose what they buy. Providing subsidised cereal to households is a policy that is based on the notion that it is best if the state decides what is good for the people and provides it.”
In one scheme, the state reduces the poor to supplicant status. In the other (cash transfers), the poor man develops a stake in the market economy. Does Sonia Gandhi want to continue playing god, when her finance minister would like the poor to stand up and behave like empowered consumers?