In Narendra Modi’s welfare model, no one is left behind
What is welfarism under Modi? It involves an efficient State that delivers on its promises and refuses to accept corruption as a fait accompli in politics.
A recent article in this newspaper attempted to decode the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s model of welfarism, but ended up mischaracterising it. Failing to look beyond the western binaries of socialism and neoliberalism and examining the BJP’s rich ideological history, commentators fail to understand the BJP’s outlook on welfare and economic development.
Welfarism under the Narendra Modi government is driven by the BJP’s consistent commitment to its foundational value of Antyodaya (no one is left behind), and was necessitated by the dismal state of public service delivery when the party assumed office in 2014.
Since its foundation, the BJP and its leaders have remained committed to Deendayal Upadhyaya’s principle of Antyodaya. Prime Minister (PM) Modi’s promise of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (with everyone, for everyone’s development) embodies this goal of inclusive development. Unlike the Congress and other Opposition parties which have deployed welfare as a quid pro quo strategy and tied delivery to electoral support, the BJP’s dharma (religion) is working for the poorest of the poor and ensuring that no one is left behind. This is because eliminating poverty through the provision of welfare is essentially the duty and responsibility of the government, rather than an instrumental strategy to win elections.
Before 2014, millions of households did not have access to even basic services such as electricity, water, sanitation, housing, and banking. Decades of disregard for effectiveness and efficiency was evident and concerted efforts were required for improving welfare provisioning. And, so, we set out to change the status quo and turn India’s welfare provisioning around.
In the past eight years, we have ensured that citizens, irrespective of caste, religion, gender, or partisan identification, can get the benefits of schemes for which they are eligible. We are moving swiftly towards saturated coverage of flagship programmes, so that no one is left behind. Aren’t these the features of a rights-based approach?
There has not only been a remarkable turnaround in the output of various welfare schemes, but also a significant improvement in outcomes. This has been documented through rigorous evaluations and studies. For instance, a recent International Monetary Fund report found that extreme poverty in India did not increase during Covid-19. This is due to free grain distribution under the PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana. The World Resources Institute’s study on the Ujjwala Yojana revealed a reduction in air pollution deaths, saving more than 150,000 lives every year. However, many analysts choose to remain silent rather than acknowledge these inconvenient truths.
There is a misconception that welfarism under Modi focuses merely on distributing “private benefits” to citizens while important areas such as health and education remain ignored. This is a myopic analysis and a failure to understand the holistic benefits of welfare schemes under the Modi government.
For instance, isn’t the Swachh Bharat Mission a health intervention too, as it seeks to end open defecation? Wouldn’t the assistance provided to agriculture households through PM Kisan Samman Nidhi programme enable them to invest in the education and nutrition of children?
Despite the active role of the State, extensive coverage, and redistribution of public resources, some commentators remain fixated on terming welfare under Modi as “neoliberal”. They expect the government not only to build private toilets for tens of millions of households, but also to provide for their maintenance. Anything less than that is casually dismissed as “neoliberalism”. The only aspect of Swachh Bharat that promotes individualism is that rather than open defecation in fields, people are urged to use private toilets n their residences. Is the Jal Jeevan Mission also neo-liberal as it aims to shift people from the drudgery of getting water from distant sources such as village ponds and wells to individual tap connections?
So, what is welfarism under the Modi government? It involves replacing the ancien regime of State-led patronage with an efficient State that delivers on its promises. It has meant building a State that refuses to accept corruption as a fait accompli and takes active measures to maximise coverage. Moreover, it is a break from an unfortunate past when PMs admitted that a mere 15 paise out of ₹1 sent from Delhi reached the poor, but did nothing to plug leakages.
Under PM Modi, the government has taken concrete steps such as shifting to direct benefit transfers (DBTs) to plug leakages in welfare provisioning. This focus on maximising coverage is what makes the BJP’s model of welfarism distinct from those of other parties.
To comprehensively understand what welfarism under Modi means and why it resonates among the masses, commentators need to travel beyond Delhi, keep their ears to the ground, and listen to the 30 million families which have got a new home under the PM Awas Yojana, the 120 million farmers who are labharthis (beneficiaries) of the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, the 800 million labharthis who have been receiving ration since the pandemic started, the 450 million citizens who opened their first bank account through the Jan Dhan Yojana, or the 90 million households that got their first LPG cylinder through the Ujjwala Yojana.
Syed Zafar Islam is an MP, national spokesperson of the BJP, and former managing director, Deutsche Bank, India
The views expressed are personal