Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Apr 27, 2004
Government - Politics
Congress vs BJP Contrasting the economic agenda
As per Economic Survey data, GDP growth fell from 6.4 per cent during the Congress-Janata Dal rule in 1992-98 to 5.6 per cent during the first five years (1998-2003) of the BJP-led rule. Though the growth rate for last year is an estimated 7-8 per cent, it is not exceptional considering the 7.8 per cent growth logged in 1996-97 during the Congress rule.
The employment scene is no better. According to the Economic Survey, employment growth rate in all the sectors was 2.9 per cent a year during 1983-88 before economic reforms, that is. It declined to 2.5 per cent in 1988-94 and further to 1.1 per cent 1994-2000.
The twin objectives before both the parties are to reverse the declining rate of economic growth and employment generation. At present, the tax-GDP ratio is about 14 per cent. The Congress aims to raise this to 18 per cent. The party says that it will give special attention to government investment in agriculture and employment generation. Public investment will be the engine of growth. Every rural household will be provided a minimum 100 days' employment a year through government schemes. It is doubtful whether this government-based approach to enhance people's welfare will succeed, as the past record has not been encouraging.
In the 1980s, the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had publicly admitted that only 15 paise of every rupee spent in welfare schemes reached the beneficiaries. The schemes now sought to be promoted may face a similar fate. Yet, the Congress' heart is in the right place. It is directly focussed on welfare of the common man.
The BJP, on the other hand, seeks to secure people's welfare by promoting schemes and those sectors of the economy with large employment potential. It proposes to inter-link rivers and, thereby, supply water to many arid regions. This, the party feels, would lead to increased agricultural employment. It also proposes to promote sectors such as tourism, textiles, handicrafts, forestry and watershed management, which have similar job potential.
It is assumed that growth of these sectors will spontaneously lead to growth in employment. This may not happen because this growth can happen using capital-intensive technologies tractors and excavators for watershed management is a case in point. The BJP is looking to target those sectors which beget not only higher economic growth but also create jobs.
The two parties seem to have entirely different approaches to people's welfare. While the Congress wants to secure this by increased outlay on government-led welfare schemes, the BJP wants to promote labour-intensive sectors.
Similarly, both have committed to raising the growth rate to 10 per cent, but again the strategies are different. The Congress has said that it will use the burgeoning foreign exchange reserves for public investment in infrastructure, and so on. While it has promised to contain the revenue deficit, there is no mention of the fiscal deficit. The party wants to keep its option to borrow or print notes and increase public investment open, but is committed to reducing government consumption. This policy can lead to increased fiscal deficit but may keep revenue deficit under control.
The BJP, on the other hand, has put the private sector at the centre of its growth strategy. It wants to make the country a global manufacturing hub. The large labour supply, the party feels, will keep wage rates low and make is profitable for MNCs to shift their manufacturing base to India. Paradoxically, low wage rates are being heralded as economic strength. The BJP has also said it would raise Indian companies to multinational status and help them establish global brands.
The BJP's economic vision is outward looking and that of the Congress, inward. While in the Congress' agenda the government is in the driver's seat, it is the private sector in the BJP's. The results of the election will decisively influence the country's position in the world economy.
If the Congress forms the government, the country will interact less within the world economy. The thrust will be on increased public investment by mobilising domestic sources. If the BJP comes to the helm, one can expect a much more aggressive India, helping companies capture more world markets and compete with the West.
(The author is a New Delhi-based freelance writer.)
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