The entire process of the high-octane election campaigns with thronging of the assembly-loving people at the instance of the politicians and thereafter the elections resulted in the NDA’s wresting majority in the Assam Legislative Assembly. The plethora of lucrative offers in the manifesto of the BJP was the main reason of attraction of the poor people en masse towards the BJP in Assam. Distribution of money and money’s worth is always welcome. Undoubtedly, the move to help the poor deserves great praise!
While the poor class people get freebies and several other items from the government at throwaway prices, the middle-class people do not get any, but due to price rises of goods of all varieties and services, the financial crunch that the middle class is facing, has become more and more severe with passage of time. Fuels, edibles, hardware, and apparels and what not – nothing has been left out of the tentacles of price rise and the middle-class people are bearing the major brunt of that. Mustard oil at Rs.180/- per liter, refined oil at Rs.170/- per liter, wheat (atta) at Rs.45/-per kg, and most of the lentils at more than Rs.120/- per kg to mention a few only in the retail market, remind people of the rates of those commodities which were at least 25% less hardly a year ago.
But, several of the commitments set forth in the manifesto of BJP are having very huge financial impacts for the people. At the same time, it is high time also to question whether implementation of such financial commitments and the commitments in kinds having financial implications, will have severe financial burden on the middle class people. With growing financial crunch, already the middle class people are the worst sufferers. It must have been very active in everybody’s mind how reductions in prices of petrol and diesel were not passed on to the people of Assam on the plea of state’s financial distress when the first spell of COVID-19 pandemic was going on in India. Out of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and consequential spells of lockdown, several crores of people have lost their jobs and several crores have been constrained to accept avenues with loss of income in the country. The said positions of joblessness and loss of income on one hand and on the other hand rapidly ascending prices of the commodities – both are putting that class of people in a wrenching vice. From what we have already experienced, it seems to be quite likely that the ultimate burden of all such happenings will be passed on to the growing detriment of the middle class. Assam, with snail’s pace of economic progress, the impact of that unemployment and loss of earning here in the state is easily palpable.
Frankly speaking, having seen how the government till now has been tackling the situation, I am quite cynical about any positive change of the economic conditions of the middle-class people of Assam in the foreseeable future: rather, there is every likelihood of further deterioration even more rapidly which I am really apprehensive of. Job market is shrinking fast. In this second wave of COVID-19, as reported, up to April, 2021 around 75 lakh people in India have lost their jobs. Salaries given by a number of companies are not having anything to do even with subsistence of the employees and their families. But to me, for that, it will not be fair to blame the employers, because their businesses are yet to come out the woods and rather the current spell of COVID-19 and consequential decisions are making their positions more and more critical. Rapidly dwindling business concerns is relentlessly making the situation much more serious. Of course, the government employees are in a far better position compared to most of those in employment with companies in the private sector. While most of the new ventures are in a very poor shape, if at all they can turnaround in near future is in great depth of uncertainty, with some of the new ventures having already been extinguished after completing a sojourn.
With already gathered experience, I am not at all optimistic of a turnaround of the state’s economy with financial upgrading of the middle and the poor classes of the people inclusive of satisfactory dealing of the growing unemployment problem in the near future. Unless the economy picks up to the satisfaction of the people at large, infrastructural development only which requires very heavy capital expenditures, does not imply satisfactory economic progress – and this holds good in the case of Assam also. If resultant to such heavy capital expenditures, the revenue of the state does not increase through industrialization, the burden of such heavy expenditure goes not only to the direct tax-payers but to the payers of indirect taxes too. To me, if the new government fails to make proper prioritization of that issue in the domain of the state’s economy, the economy is likely to face more severe consequences heavily tilting towards more suffering of the middle class people.
Because of political considerations, an overwhelming size of the people will go on getting economic sympathy but it is feared that if at the same time the government does not come out with proper strategy for respite of the middle class people, relentless economic woes will surely fall upon the middle class. As I have already mentioned, such sympathy to the have-nots is really welcome; but to me, the major bulk of financial implication should not be passed on to the middle-class people because recovery of government expenditure mainly takes the easiest route of increasing taxes. Of course, so long the state fails to show satisfactory industrial progress in all the sectors, the growing plight of the middle class people is not likely to change. Then again, people’s awakening to such burning problems is also really discouraging and is a matter of serious concern. The NDA in its election manifesto mentioned about creation of new jobs, but how pragmatically convincing such strategy may be only time will reveal. Instead, I have seen how the central government is making calculation of its earning that it is likely to make out of handing over the proposed PSUs to the private sector for good. True, on the heel of COVID-19 first spell devastation in the country, most of the industrial tycoons like Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani and Ratan Tata etc. are taking their companies to new heights making sure great acceleration of their personal wealth also thus signifying more wealth to the class of people they belong to; but the concept of professionalism and more efficiency in the private sector does not hold good in case of a number of private sector units and resultantly we have seen how so many industrial units are on the verge of collapse while numbers of industrial units in that sector have already closed down in Assam.
Unless the new government relieves the middle class of growing agonies, and makes the poor people realize necessity of their financial progress by getting themselves engaged for their livelihood besides getting government blessings as already mentioned, no meaningful economic turnaround in the state is likely to happen. The previous government in Assam, while playing hide and seek with the fate of a number of dying industrial units, did not do anything remarkable for economic progress of the state, because unless the economic conditions of the people at large are improved upon, it will be wrong to claim any economic progress. Therefore, it will be quite interesting to see what does this new government do to revamp the state’s economy because failure to make proper diagnosis of the problems may be no way less dangerous than not taking any action. I am equally emphatic that if the poor people are content with the freebies and waiver of loans of micro finances etc. as promised by the BJP in its manifesto for Assam and availability of some distributions at throw away prices which is already in vogue, without any efforts by themselves for their economic turnaround, the cruelty of peril to their future generations will have uninhibited growth thereby expanding the size of that poor class of people in Assam.
The problems being real, the actions taken are likely to have a very far reaching impact on the state’s economy. We should be ready to observe every move of the government in such crucial matters.
(The author is a Guwahati-based advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]