THE elections have seen a reversal of roles in the case of the two principal contenders the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). The Congress, under the stewardship of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, is seeking peoples support for fulfilling their aspirations but has not announced any new scheme. The TDP, led by N. Chandrababu Naidu, who earned a reputation for being the poster boy of the World Bank-dictated reform agenda, has promised a slew of sops, including distribution of free colour television sets and cash transfer to the poor. Under the cash transfer scheme, announced in the TDP manifesto, Rs.2,000, Rs.1,500 and Rs.1,000 respectively will be transferred to the bank accounts of three categories of below-the-poverty line (BPL) families.
The Congress has promised an enhancement of the rice quota from four to six kilos for an individual through fair price shops and the power supply to farmers from seven hours to nine. Rajasekhara Reddy is harping on his governments achievement of maintaining an unparalleled balance between welfare and development.
The opposition parties say several issues pertaining to the common man, his financial empowerment and social security, remain unaddressed. The spiralling rise in the prices of essentials, alienation of agricultural land to industry at the expense of farmers in a predominantly agrarian economy, and rising unemployment are set to play a key role in deciding the outcome of the elections.
Another key issue is land reforms and distribution of land to the poor, which remains unresolved despite assurances by political parties in power. The Congress government constituted a high-level panel headed by Koneru Ranga Rao on land-related issues, but several recommendations made by the committee have failed to see the light of day.
The five-year tenure of the Congress saw a flood of incentives to various sections, including the subsidised rice scheme, the Indiramma housing scheme aimed at covering 80 lakh beneficiaries, the Arogyasri health insurance scheme for the poor, free power to farmers and reimbursement of school and college fees for the Backward Classes and the poor among the upper castes. This is in addition to its flagship programme, Jala Yagnam, with an investment of Rs.1.5 lakh crores, for the completion of about 80 pending irrigation projects.
The majority of the welfare schemes are, however, dogged by allegations of underhand deals. Even the Jala Yagnam scheme is said to have turned into money-spinners for contractors. Continuing suicides by farmers and weavers in some parts of the State and the still-to-be-achieved targets of irrigation projects have come in handy for the opposition to take on the government.
The emergence of new parties also means new sets of assurances. While Chiranjeevis Praja Rajyam promises a corruption-free government, the Lok Satta Party of former bureaucrat Jayaprakash Narayan promises real empowerment of the common man. An interesting feature of this round is the unanimity among political parties over subsidies though they differ in their approaches to reach the benefits to the poor. The parties are, however, sharply divided over schemes such as the cash transfer incentive and distribution of free colour televisions proposed by the TDP.
Making them beggars on a permanent scale appears to be the sole intention of political parties, says Jayaprakash Narayan on the sops offered by other parties. The Left parties support the cash transfer scheme, claiming it to be the need of the hour as it would accelerate public spending that is essential to counter the effect of the current recession.