India Opposition Leader Gandhi Pledges to End Poverty by 2030

Bibhudatta Pradhan, Abhijit Roy Chowdhury and Archana Chaudhary
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India Opposition Leader Gandhi Pledges to End Poverty by 2030

(Bloomberg) -- India’s main opposition Congress party has pledged to tackle unemployment and poverty as it seeks to wrest power from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling coalition just days out from a national election.

Led by Rahul Gandhi, the party released its election manifesto in New Delhi on Tuesday, promising to rid India of poverty by 2030, waive farm loans, introduce a single sales tax and reserve a third of government jobs for women.

It repeated a commitment, announced last week, to provide 20 percent of poor families across the country with a payment of 72,000 rupees ($1,046) annually through their bank accounts to ensure their basic income does not fall below $174 per month.

With joblessness at a 45-year high of 6.1 percent, Gandhi pledged to fill 400,000 posts at a federal level and urge state governments to fill 2 million vacant jobs by the end of March 2020.

"Unemployment is the gravest challenge to the country and job creation is the highest concern for the economy," the party’s manifesto reads. "In the last five years there’s been a dramatic rise in unemployment."

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the plan was "unimplementable." He told a press conference in New Delhi the Congress manifesto indicates some costs of the income support program will be borne by the states and the rest will be generated by rationalizing some subsidy schemes.

Still, some analysts saw merit in the proposals. Sudha Pai, a political science professor at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the manifesto should make an impact. "It’s certainly a very progressive document," Pai said. "The income support program seems doable and more plausible than anything the Modi government has put forward in the budget. But the main problem will be the implementation, especially in India’s corrupt northern states."

India’s general elections will take place in seven phases between April 11 and May 19, with results to be announced on May 23.

Economic Expansion

Congress said it would revive the economy by giving a push to private investment, government expenditure, domestic consumption and exports.

It proposed to increase the share of India’s manufacturing from 16 percent of GDP to 25 percent in five years. Even with all its expenditure plans, the party aims to achieve 3 percent budget gap goal by 2021.

It plans to merge state-run banks and "promises to reverse the unwarranted and illegal interference by the BJP government into the functioning of the RBI." Businesses that employ a certain percentage of women workers will get incentives if the Congress party assumed power after the polls, it said.

Farmer Focus

The farm loan waiver is one of India’s most popular, often-used political tools.

In 2009, it helped Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led government return to power with a bailout program in which 37 million farmers benefited from waivers of 522 billion rupees.

This time, the party’s pledged to waive outstanding farm loans across the country, as it did when it formed government in the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in December.

"If a farmer can’t repay debt it would be civil offence not criminal offence," Gandhi said, committing to creating a separate budget for farmers if elected to office.

"There is a need to jump start the economy and give it a shock therapy," Gandhi said. "As farmers start spending money, growth will be revived."

National Security

The ruling BJP has run narrative based on polarization at the expense of national security, Gandhi said. "The BJP has divided India in last five years -- Congress will work toward uniting India," Gandhi said, challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a debate on national security and corruption.

Modi has been criticized by the opposition for not fulfilling his promise of creating 10 million jobs each year -- a pledge that helped him win over India’s youth in the 2014 election.

The ruling party denies this charge. BJP President Amit Shah said: “The problem is not a crisis of jobs but a crisis of data.”

(Updates with finance minister comment in fifth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Vrishti Beniwal.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net;Abhijit Roy Chowdhury in New Delhi at achowdhury11@bloomberg.net;Archana Chaudhary in New Delhi at achaudhary2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, Unni Krishnan

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