Full medicare should top 2019 agenda

Nitya Chakraborty

What should be the primary agenda of the year 2019 which is the last year of the second decade of the 21st century?.The outgoing year was marked by the farmers distress, job losses and the talk about widespread insecurity among both farmers and workers in terms of their livelihood. Forget talking about improving the lot, the immediate issue in 2018 was the constant battle of the common masses to maintain their existing level of financial viability. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s acche din was forgotten, it was bure din for the vulnerable sections of the society.
In the last few months, much discussions have taken place about raising the income of the farmers. Prime Minister has assured doubling the farm income by 2022. Nobody believes it is possible. The three Congress state governments, after being elected in December 2018, have implemented the loan waiver scheme for the distressed farmers. Congress President Rahul Gandhi has challenged the PM to take up the Congress challenge and the ruling leadership is preparing to meet that by shortly announcing a comprehensive support scheme for the farmers. The crucial Lok Sabha elections are due in April/May 2019 and so this competition between the PM and the Congress President on announcing palliatives, are expected to reach its peak.
Nobody says that the loan waivers are the real solution to the farmers distress but still, the loan waivers announced by the Congress governments last week and the measures by the Telangana government have come to the relief of the hassled farmers. The immediate impact of these measures should not be overlooked but on a sustained basis, the income level of the poor including the marginal farmers have to be raised and in that direction, the proposal for a minimum universal basic income (UBI) can be discussed and implemented in India also. The proposal and its merits and demerits are being discussed globally. Eminent economist Dr. Pranab Bardhan has just mentioned this in his article in a national daily and he is one of the proponents of this proposal as an important step in poverty reduction and improving the standard of living of the vulnerable sections of the population.
According to Dr. Bardhan, the highly defective loan waiver programme, if applied to all states of India, will easily cost Rs. 4 lakh crore and the farm income support plan for all of India will come to more than half that amount. The UBI, that way is a sure shot to improve the living standard and by taking measures to reduce expenditure through cut in subsidies, and increasing tax GDP ratio, 2.5 per cent of the GDP can be mobilized to take care of the UBI funds. Though he has not mentioned the amount in the latest piece, but in earlier discussions, a basic income of Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 5,000 per month has been mentioned. It can be given to the people below the poverty line. That will transform the lives of these people leading to the removal of nagging economic insecurity.
The UBI issue has generated a big debate in the West, especially the USA where the issue of inequality has come to the fore in a big way. Both Bernie Sanders in USA and Jeremy Corbin in Britain have been talking about the economies being run in the interests of one per cent now and promising to change the system to favour 99 per cent when they come to power. Even the capitalists of new generation like Marc Zuckerburg and Chris Hughes co-founders of Facebook have argued for UBI as not necessarily a comprehensive solution but as at least a moderating analgesic for the severity of income inequality and poverty in countries including America.
In USA, there is a fierce debate among the Left about the suitability of UBI but the overwhelming opinion is that this can be a starting point and this UBI is already beginning to shift the people’s consciousness in directions that lead to socialism. The programme is bringing the issues of class and inequality more into focus and and making them part of national conversation. Prof. Tim Libretti argues in the US daily People’s World that the UBI is certainly not any ultimate panacea, but it is one way of strengthening vulnerable members of society in their struggle against capitalism. Interestingly Zuckerburg, while supporting UBI, in his address at Harvard mentioned how growing up with financial security allowed him the freedom to pursue his inventions explaining “ If I had to support my family, instead of having time to code, If I did not know I would be fine if Facebook did not work out, I would not be standing here today”
That way, economic security is the most important component which encourages the spirit of innovation. In California Mayor Michael Tubbs of Stockton, has been able to implement a universal basic income in his city, with a plan to be piloted on a small scale beginning in 2019.What motivated him was precisely the socialist imagination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which he has invoked explicitly recalling reading King’s “Where Do We Go from Here Chaos or Community” in which King calls for a guaranteed annual income.
For India in 2019, the implementation of the UBI must be the major agenda for the combined opposition led by the Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Prime Minister might announce some programme for raising farm income on a sustained basis but the UBI is certainly a much better sustainable alternative to improve the lot of all poor including farmers in an unequal society like India at the moment. Both the Congress and the Left have to work hard to draw up a viable and sustainable UBI scheme for inclusion in the opposition’s minimum programme. (IPA)

Sunday, 13 January, 2019