Karnataka guarantees: Siddaramaiah faces herculean task, but analysts hopeful
As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal(S) tried to corner the Congress on the “freebies” on which the party had fought elections, the newly elected Siddaramaiah-led Karnataka government on Friday (June 2) announced the phased roll-out of all five guarantee schemes. The “guarantees” reportedly found resonance with voters, particularly women, in the May 10 assembly elections and played a key role in ensuring a resounding victory for the Congress.
While aggressively campaigning against the Sangh Parivar’s divisive agenda, even calling for the ban on the Bajrang Dal, the Congress had promised the electorate that it would implement five guarantee schemes if voted to power. The five guarantees are: free electricity up to 200 units under Gruha Jyoti; assistance of Rs 2,000 to the woman head of every family under Gruha Lakshmi; 10 kg of free rice to every BPL family under Anna Bhagya; free bus travel for women; and finally, Rs 3,000 per month for 24 months to unemployed youth under Yuva Nidhi.
Cost to exchequer
It is estimated that the implementation of the five guarantees will cost the state exchequer around Rs 50,000 crore annually, which may be a Herculean task to pull off, leading experts to doubt if the government will be able to make it happen. The “freebie” politics, experts opine, may help the Congress take the BJP head on in Karnataka in the 2024 general elections, which are just a year away.
The rollout has helped the Congress build a strong positive perception about itself among the general public in two ways, though it may not last longer. One, the Congress can now say that the government has implemented the guarantees the party had given to the electorate and can build on it for parliamentary elections due next year. At the same time, the party has made the public believe that the Congress keeps the promises it makes.
In fact, Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, who is also the state party chief, had the party workers distribute the “guarantee cards” to households during electioneering. Shivakumar has always been telling the Congress leadership to make it cadre-based party.
Second, the announcement of implementation of guarantees will again help the Congress reach out to maximum number of voters as the party workers will be asked to approach each household to help them avail the schemes, even fill out application forms for them. The party workers, sources say, will also verify each beneficiary and check misuse. According to a Congress leader, the implementation process will strengthen the party base at the grass-roots level and as a corollary it will help the party in general elections.
Can Siddaramaiah do it?
Political analyst C Rudrappa is of the opinion that this move has created a buzz in the state as one or the other member of each household will be a beneficiary of the guarantee schemes. One need not to be BPL or APL to avail the guarantees. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has been an experienced finance minister and has the ability to turn things around.
The chief minister is known for his administrative skills. He can handle both the legislators and the bureaucracy. Both are essential for the proper implementation of schemes. Though it is not an easy task, he and DK Shivakumar, his deputy, can together make it happen. “Though the Congress is not in a position to ignore the BJP, which has the potential to hit back, the party is in aggressive mood to make it happen,” Rudrappa said.
D Umapathi, another analyst, believes Siddaramaiah can handle such situations. After all, he tabled 13 budgets and he will certainly have his calculations in place. He had fulfilled almost all promises made by his party in the manifesto when he was chief minister earlier in 2013–18.
Tall task ahead
To meet the expectations of the electorate and generate financial resource, the state government will have to mobilise all possible sources of revenue generation, check revenue leakage and secure GST compensation from the Centre. The central government has to give around Rs 12,000 crore in GST compensation to Karnataka and the previous government had not spent Central Sponsorship Schemes funds and it is said that around Rs. 20,000 crore is lying unspent. According to Rudrappa, the Siddaramaiah government may mobilise funds from all these avenues.
However, getting the GST compensation from the Centre will be the primary task of the Siddaramaiah government and this could be the first step of a long battle with the Union government, a Congress leader opined.
With the Congress coming to power in Karnataka with a thumping majority, the “guarantee model” is now being discussed in almost every state and importantly in the Congress circles. The Congress wants to imitate the model in states like Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and others, which are going to have elections within a year or so. “It all will depend on how the Siddaramaiah government fares in the implementation of the schemes,” a Congress leader said.