Chidambaram pinpoints targets ahead of polls

Offers budget sops to women, youth and the poor

By Amit Baruah
Published: Thursday 28 February 2013

Finance Minister P Chidambaram has aggressively targeted women, youth and the poor in his government’s last budget before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. You cannot really blame him for trying to bring in the votes.

Chidambaram said as much during his speech on Thursday when he referred to these three priority groups and referred to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi for sanction. “He [the youth] is impatient, she is ambitious, and both represent the aspirations of a new generation. The third is the face of the poor who look to the government for a little help, a scholarship or an allowance or a subsidy or a pension,” the Finance Minister said.

Women seemed uppermost in his mind as he announced a “Nirbhaya” fund of Rs 1,000 crore in memory of the December 16 rape-and-murder victim. For the first time ever, India will also get an all-women bank.

For the youth, there was a Rs 1,000 crore skill development fund while for the poor there was the promise of rolling out the controversial Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme across the country during the current tenure of this government.

While the official release put out by the Press Information Bureau said the objective of the budget was a “higher growth rate leading to inclusive and sustainable development” as the “mool mantra”, the targeting of women, youth and the poor was all too obvious.

The massive protests in Delhi and other parts of the country following the December 16 incident has led the government to believe that women need to be told that this is a government that “cares” about them. In many ways, the women and the youth category coalesce.

The Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme and the 16 per cent, across-the-board increase in public spending shows the rural and the urban poor are obvious targets in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

But devil is in the detail

While Chidambaram referred to the smiles on the faces of the direct beneficiaries and announced the creation of the Nirbhaya Fund, the devil is in the detail of the implementation.

Questions about the direct benefit scheme, leading to the death of the public distribution scheme and the associated dangers remain in the public domain while the Nirbhaya Fund is still to be worked out by the Women and Child Development Ministry. Some details about how the money is to be used would have been welcome.

There are also questions about whether a woman’s bank will actually benefit women or it is more in the nature of striking the right notes and providing a talking point for election speeches.

Clearly, there’s money around and the government is not averse to “buying” votes. But the question remains: will all this be enough for the UPA to snatch a third term?

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