Tuesday, January 29, 2019


India’s main opposition Congress party has said it will implement a variation of a universal basic income (UBI) targeted at the poor if it wins the country’s upcoming national election.

“We have decided that every poor person in India would be guaranteed a minimum income after the Congress forms the government in 2019,” the Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi, told a farmers’ rally in the central state of Chhattisgarh on Monday. “No one will go hungry in India, no one will remain poor,” he said. "We do not want two Indias in this country. There will be only one India and the Congress government will ensure a minimum income to every poor person in the country.”

The announcement is the first major shot in an election battle likely to be replete with populist giveaways to voters.

Congress’s former finance minister P Chidambaram said more details of what he called “a turning point in the lives of the poor” would be revealed in the party’s manifesto. Chidambaram said the party would find the resources to implement the scheme. “The poor of India have the first charge on the resources of the country,” he added.

As always with grand policies the Devil will be in the details and we in the World Socialist Movement know only too well that the politicians' promises rarely match reality when enacted and it is already unclear whether the minimum income guarantee, likely to take the form of a direct cash transfer, would replace subsidies on food, petrol and fertilisers valued at 2.64tn rupees (£28bn) for all Indians in the 2018-19 budget.

 UBI involves paying all citizens an unconditional monthly sum regardless of whether they work and how much they earn, and which they can use as they wish. It is intended to replace all existing social benefits. Proponents on the Left argue that it has the potential to eliminate poverty, while advocates on the Right believe it can streamline the welfare system. The WSM can guarantee that this is not going to be free money for all paid by the Indian state to every citizen unconditionally as a matter of right. What a Congress government will do is make up the income of the poor to a set minimum – the poverty line – by giving them a very basic Basic Income.

Much better to go the whole way and abolish the wages system through making the means of production the common property of all, so that everyone can have free access to all of what they need.

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