Cash transfers will have political consequences

The decision of the Central government to transfer cash handouts to the bank accounts of millions of end users from the beginning of next year is bound to have a political fall out. While it is obvious that those who are behind this move have in mind the next Parliamentary elections, the good idea can boomerang if it is not properly implemented.

The government it seems has put on hold for the moment two big subsidy handouts—food and fertilizer but is keen to push cash transfers in schemes such old age pensions and scholarship facilities. It is significant that the announcement of the initiative by two key ministers—P.Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh was formally done from the premises of the All India Congress Committee thereby making it clear that it was a party promise, which was being fulfilled.

It was also announced that Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi will monitor implementation of the project through party leaders in select districts.

Since the matter is now going to be under close scrutiny, the implementation job will have to be done properly. Those entrusted with the task of overseeing things will have to ensure that the bureaucracy as is its habit does not fudge figures and gives inflated numbers and at the same time, the party derives political dividend from the scheme. What is going to be a challenge is that the Congress infra structure in many parts of the country is only on paper and does not exist at the grassroots level any more. Therefore each claim made by both party men and bureaucrats will have to be verified many times over. Otherwise, the good scheme could have a negative impact. This will be so if for instance, ten people get direct cash transfers and fifty others do not get it in the same area for some reason or the other. The damage control will be very difficult at such a stage.

In the seventies, late Sanjay Gandhi had come up with several good ideas like growing more trees, having a better ecological balance, a small family and discipline. We all know what happened as the manner in which these good schemes especially the one pertaining to family planning was implemented, left so much to be desired. Allegations, right or wrong, were all over that many men were forcibly sterilized thereby creating a phobia against “Nasbandi’’. No one can deny that in talking about these schemes 37 years ago, Sanjay Gandhi was ahead of his times, but vicious propaganda and accusations of excesses contributed to the Congress defeat. Mind you at that time, the party infrastructure was intact and there was a strong leader like Indira Gandhi at the helm of affairs but the damage was beyond repair.

The cash transfer scheme is a well meaning and well thought out initiative which should not be allowed to go wrong in any way since it is aimed at benefiting millions. Therefore caution should be exercised. Other than this, the Congress will be able to redeem itself to some degree if it is able to control prices. It is one single factor, which is contributing hugely to its negative image. On the whole, both the government and the party, which have a very low credibility at the moment, have to work extra hard and with sincerity if they wish to once again enjoy the backing of the aam aadmi.

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