Dear Rahul, You’ve Done NYAY (Justice), Now Give UMMEED (Hope)
I absolutely endorse NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana, or Minimum Income Plan), authored by Rahul Gandhi’s Congress as its big political idea for the 2019 polls.
No, I’ve not become a leftist. I continue to be a card carrying right-of-centre economic liberal who believes in the power of well-regulated, competitive markets to transform lives. Because at the core of this ideology is a deep, efficient welfare state that is laser-focused on the genuinely poor and disenfranchised citizens. Look around – some of the richest free market economies also run the most powerful welfare programmes. There is no contradiction. Instead, there is an organic chemistry between the two
NYAY Sent PM Modi Into Panic Modi
Within hours, BJP political heavyweights were holding televised conferences and tweet storms to ridicule the idea (gosh, how could the Congress outsmart Modi in coining a savvier acronym!). But most of their barbs landed like dud missiles:
- Predictably, Indira Gandhi and Pandit Nehru were the fall guys. “Poverty would have vanished a long time back if Rahul’s great-grandfather had not grown our economy at the snail’s pace of 3.5 percent in the 1950s,” screamed one worthy, blithely ignoring the pitiable state inherited from the British, as opposed to the robust $ 2 trillion economy bequeathed to Modi
- After the invectives came some real numbers. “We are already giving Rs 5.43 lakh crore via DBT (direct benefit transfers). That’s already Rs 1.068 lakh per family, so much more than your Rs 72,000. Losers, all of you”. Heck, what a white lie. This Rs 5.43 lakh crore includes my father’s pension, my driver’s LPG subsidy, his wife’s maternity entitlement, an Afghan student’s scholarship ... it’s not a minimum income being transferred to the really poor
- After all of the above fizzled out, they asked “how will you identify the beneficiaries?”. Why, exactly like Modi’s foot soldiers will target the half a billion poor recipients of Ayushman Bharat (health insurance). If Modi/BJP can, so can Rahul/Congress, right?
- Finally, “how will you finance it? By yanking the fiscal deficit back to 6 percent as you had done in 2008, throwing the economy into an inflationary spiral?”. But wait again. That 6 percent deficit was a calibrated stimulus to keep the economy afloat in the wake of the severe post-Lehman global recession. It wasn’t an arbitrary, wanton move.
But Seriously, How Can NYAY be Funded?
While the Congress has yet to enumerate the blueprint, let me make an intelligent guess (this is just one iteration; several variants are possible):
- To begin with, everything will not happen on Day One. First a pilot will be launched, say in 10 percent of the districts, followed by a staggered rollout – exactly like MNREGA was successfully implemented
- So if we assume that the rollout will be across 10, 20, 30 and 40 percent of the districts over Years 1 through 4, the cash needed would be Rs 36,000, Rs 108,000, Rs 216,000 and Rs 360,000 crores respectively
- There are two existing schemes which can justifiably be tweaked to realign them with NYAY. The first one is the food subsidy programme, budgeted at Rs 1,84,000 crores, that covers 67% of the population. Since per capita incomes have risen substantially, its coverage can be reduced to 50 percent, thereby releasing almost Rs 50,000 crore for NYAY. Also, MNREGA could guarantee 150 days per year, up from the current 100 days, of employment to a NYAY beneficiary, carving out an additional Rs 10-20,000 crores. Just these two tweaks could take care of the first 18 months without adding a penny to the deficit
- There are estimates that a tiny 1-percent wealth tax on households with assets of more than Rs 2.50 crore (just 0.1 percent of India’s households) could raise over Rs 1 lakh crore – added to the above cash, we already have half the cost covered with NO impact on the fiscal deficit
- And finally, economic growth could cover the rest. India’s GDP is expected to grow from Rs 2 lakh crore to Rs 3.50+ lakh crore over the next 4-5 years. Voila! Just that would garner the additional tax revenue required to fund NYAY, while keeping the fiscal deficit at prudent levels
The Key is Massive De-regulation to Kick-Start RAPID ECONOMIC GROWTH
And so I turn to the ultimate weft of my argument.
Rahul Gandhi should also launch the final assault on India’s draconian-ly regulated economy to free the animal spirits of our people. That is the flip side of NYAY, to undertake massive governance reforms such that entrepreneurship and wealth creation flourish, heaving our economy over the double-digit growth threshold that has remained elusive.
Nearly 90 percent of our GDP is produced in private enterprises, but it is horribly strangled in red tape. It’s India’s awful curse that policies are made by civil servants who are deeply suspicious of market forces; who’ve lived in cradle-to-grave financial security; who cannot even begin to understand what Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” means in the real world (not in tutorials read at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy in Mussoorie).
If you think I am exaggerating our cruel policies, here are a few egregious examples that I can rattle off from the top of my head:
- Why don’t we allow corporate restructuring via contracts, which can be wrapped up in weeks; why do our entrepreneurs have to waste years in court, paying ridiculously high legal fees?
- Why do we have contradictory guidelines that force companies to violate one regulator or another? For example, SEBI guidelines may not allow founders to dilute, while RBI guidelines slap penalties if they don’t (eg, newly listed banks like Bandhan)? Or SEBI guidelines may force an acquirer to go above 51 percent while FDI rules prohibit that (eg, airlines)?
- Why do we control entertainment tariffs while petrol is freely priced?
- Why does a company first get court approval for a tax-neutral merger, but then get hit by a demand of Rs 5,000 crore in “dividend tax” for the same transaction?
- Why don’t we allow our first generation founders to issue equity with superior voting rights to protect them against Chinese and American raiders? Why are we so restrictive about allowing foreign listings and financial instruments?
- Why do we need an “anti-profiteering authority” to harass and force small businesses to pass GST benefits to consumers? Why don’t we trust competitive forces to achieve that?
- Which country in the world taxes capital as income? And calls itself an “angel”?
From NYAY to UMMEED
If NYAY is to succeed, Rahul Gandhi and Congress must also vigorously design and implement UMMEED, viz Unleash Mahatvakanksha (ambition) and Mojo via Exceptional and Energetic Deregulation.
NYAY and UMMEED should be treated as identical twins, born to and nurtured by the same mother, ie a caring, sensitive and proactive Indian state. Together, these shall transform India.
(Make sure you don't miss fresh news updates from us. Click here to stay updated )