February 09, 2020

Manuvaadi Economics and the Hindu Right

Archana Prasad

THE finance minister presented the union budget 2020-2021 in the context of the growing attacks by the Hindu right on the peaceful protests in Jamia Millia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh against the CAA-NRC-NPR. Both these developments need to be seen in the context of the desperate attempts by the BJP and its fringe organisations to polarise the upcoming Delhi elections and hide the economic mess that has been created by the NDA government in the last six years. A careful analysis of the union budget shows that the economic vision of the government is guided by the interests of corporate finance capital and a dominant brahmanical social structure that structures the discriminatory policies of the current NDA government.

The economic survey 2019-2020 states, the economic policy of the government will be guided by the invisible hand of the market along with the “hand of trust”. Thus the main aim of the budget is to move towards earning “sabka vishwas” through “sabka saath” and “sabka vikas”. At the same time the finance minister also emphasised the need for economic growth and development with a focus on “respecting the wealth creator”. However on all these counts, the budget is an abject failure.

The main focus of the budget is on giving big ticket concessions to corporates who appear to be regarded as ‘wealth creators’ as they are expected to put their money into infrastructure and other projects. Following this path, the budget obviously shows no concern for the people who are the actual ‘wealth creators”, ie, the workers of this country. Second, an overwhelming section of the working class (namely women, dalits, adivasis and minorities) face social, political and economic discrimination, which has been reflected in successive budgets of the NDA government. These sections have also borne the brunt of the ensuing economic crisis and therefore their concerns required more focused attention. In other words, though the entire working class has been short changed in the budget, the historically deprived sections face the prospects of higher fiscal discrimination than the forward castes.

The budgetary numbers over the last couple of years provide the evidence for this explanation. As per the latest periodic labour force survey, 2017-2018, the dalits constitute 19.6 per cent, adivasis 9.3 per cent and OBCs 42.8 per cent of the population. The forward castes (ie, non SC/ST and OBC castes) constitute only 28.2 per cent of the entire population. In keeping with this demographic trend, it is obvious that a substantial allocation should be made for departments and ministries dealing with these sections. However an analysis of the budgetary and revised estimates since 2018-19 (ie, the general election budget) shows that the nodal ministries dealing with these sections have abysmally low allocations. The budgetary allocation of the department of social justice and empowerment (dealing with SC and OBC welfare) was an abysmal 0.045 per cent of the projected GDP and 0.33 per cent of the total expenditure budget. A similar story can be seen in the case of the adivasis where the budgetary allocations for the ministry of tribal affairs are an abysmal 0.032 per cent of the projected GDP and 0.23 per cent of the entire expenditure budget for 2020-2021. The other two ministries dealing with historically vulnerable sections, ie, ministry of minority affairs and ministry of women and child development received a budgetary allocation as percentage of projected GDP that is 0.22 and 0.13 per cent respectively and constitutes 0.17 and 0.98 per cent of the expenditure budget respectively for 2020-2021. It should be further noted that if we look at the cumulative allocations of the four ministries mentioned above, the total money allocated to them is 0.23 per cent of the projected GDP and constitutes only 1.72 per cent of the entire projected expenditure budget. This level of spending does not even match the level of total expenditure for the four ministries in 2018-2019, which was 1.86 per cent of the total expenditure budget. The projected proportional allocations are also 0.06 per cent than the budgetary allocation and 0.02 per cent less than the revised allocation for 2019-2020. In other words, despite the economic distress, there have been targeted cut backs in proportional spending for dalits, adivasis, other vulnerable groups, women and minorities.

The claim made above is borne out by the proportional allocations and spending on welfare of these sections by the union government:

Expenditure on select welfare schemes as a percentage of total combined expenditure on central and centrally sponsored schemes (2018-2021):

Budget Head Actual Expenditure 2018-19 Budget Allocation 2019-20 Revised Allocation 2019-20 Budget Allocation 2020-21

Schemes for Welfare of SC 5.82 6.76 6.69 7.11

Schemes for Welfare of ST 3.95 4.40 4.52 4.58

Schemes for Welfare of Minorities 0.38 0.39 0.43 0.43

Gender Budget 12.33 11.39 13.10 12.24

Schemes for Welfare of Other Vulnerable Groups 0.95 0.60 0.68 0.72

The table above shows that the total combined expenditure projected for sections that constitute more than two thirds of the total population of the country is only approximately 25.08 per cent of the total union expenditure on welfare schemes in 2020-21. This is only 1.64 per cent higher than the actual expenditure in 2018-29 and 1.54 per cent higher than the projected budgetary allocation for 2019-2020. But what is more significant is the fact that the projected expenditure is 0.54 per cent lower than the revised allocation of 2019-2020. Such a figure is shameful considering the projected total expenditure in the union budget higher by 7.4 per cent than the revised estimates for central and centrally sponsored schemes in 2019-2020. This means that the union government does not intend to address the problems of the most deprived sections of the economy, especially in the wake of systemic economic distress. In fact instead of practicing a targeted policy of increased public spending for these social groups and sections, the union government seems to be ignoring the systemic tendency towards social and economic discrimination within the contemporary capitalist system.

An overview of the trends laid out above clearly points towards the economic destitution of large sections of the socially deprived social groups. The economic policies which drive this process are intimately aligned with the brahmanical and patriarchal politics of the Hindu Right which targets women, minorities and dalits. This is evident in the increasing instances of social and political violence against these sections and also in the recent political moves of the NDA and its fringe organisations. For example, the Uttar Pradesh government’s policy of making recoveries from Muslim protestors or the Hindutva brigade’s focus on destruction of property and businesses of Muslim minorities in Muzaffarnagar, all these indicate a calibrated attempt to create the economic foundation of a more aggressive Hindutva politics. Here it would also be in order to remember that the economic boycott of dalits and minorities was also an essential component of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. This chilling indication is a reminder of the political and social reality behind the hype of “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwaas”. This can only be exposed through a larger unity of the working class through a socially inclusive strategy which highlights the dangerous nexus between economic policy and aggressive politics of the Hindu Right.