April , 2024
The 2024 elections & some uncommon economic issues
11:16 am

Buroshiva Dasgupta

The 2024 parliamentary elections have brought to the fore several real but hitherto undiscussed and hence uncommon economic issues. The finance minister has declined to fight the election because she said she has not enough money. This is a rare case of personal honesty which we seldom come across from other MP candidates.

This also raises another disturbing question as how others find the money to fight a Lok Sabha seat. A rough estimate shows that each candidate needs to spend around five to six crores of rupees to make a modest promotion of oneself as a candidate. Close on the heels comes the issue of the political parties (which help their candidates with money to fight the elections) and how they raise their funds. The electoral bonds were one way to raise funds but that has been recently struck down by the Supreme Court as illegal and unconstitutional. The FM madam Sitaram’s husband, who himself is a noted economist, has gone public saying that the electoral bond is one of the biggest ‘scams’ in recent times. One only hopes that we will see more such cases of personal honesty from political families.

This election also raises another issue of good intention when the prime minister announces that the government will redistribute the `3000 crore that the Enforcement Directorate has confiscated from several ministers and other political agents in West Bengal back to the state’s common people from whom the money was extracted. Surely, it’s a wonderful proposal. But it is more easily said than done. The CBI, ED and other monitoring agencies of the government have now been strengthened by the recent amendments of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002. While the ruling party is being accused of ‘misusing’ these government agencies by frequently harassing the opposition party members especially during the elections, it is also being said that these recent amendments of the PMLA,which give  sweeping powers to the ED/CBI ,were done through the Finance Bills, which is unconstitutional. So the validity of these frequent raids and confiscation are being challenged and counter challenged resulting in delays in finding solutions. So the good intentions of the prime minister may not be executed in the near future. One only hopes that it doesn’t end up in the fate of another big promise the PM had made when he in a previous election had said that the government was seriously pursuing the effort to bring back  all the ‘black money’ that had moved out of the country and distribute it among the common people.

He even committed that the amount will be Rs.15000 per person and will be deposited in every account. Amit Shah later admitted that it was an ‘election statement’, difficult to implement in reality.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and in the 2021 Assembly elections the BJP had campaigned on the lines of implementing a ‘double-engine sarkar’ in states like West Bengal and others where the party was not in power. Amit Shah had promised to wrap the state in gold - ‘sonar Bangla’. This time, there are no such big promises but the central schemes on housing, farmers loans, NREGA, free rations, grants for women and other such ‘developmental projects’ are being touted. The CBI/ED is being used to expose that the state rulers are ‘misusing’ these central funds. One local BJP leader said that if they come to power they will treble the grant for women which the state now offers.

The state of West Bengal in particular has a long history of state-centre conflict over receipt and distribution of central funds. If the politicians of both state and centre had genuine intentions of ‘working for the people’ which they constantly claim, why can’t they cooperate – and keep politics out – in the distribution of funds meant for essential social security? If a poor villager gets funds for housing both from the centre and the state, it is all the merrier. Why the issue if you get one fund, you cannot get the other? The problem is more acute in West Bengal. In many other states, particularly in the south, where there are no ‘double engine sarkar’, the governments are more practical and the state and central machinery work together on genuine issues meant for the state’s development. They don’t allow politics to interfere when the state’s development is at stake.

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