With the start of the Indian elections now just two weeks away, campaigns by the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian National Congress (INC) led by Rahul Gandhi have been quickly ramping up. In a bid to separate the current party campaign from its poor performance in the 2014 elections, the INC recently announced a major promise to help lift India's poorest out of poverty. On March 25, Rahul Gandhi announced a "final assault on poverty" by promising minimum income transfers of Rs. 72,000 (C$1,400) a year to the poor. This policy, which is expected to cost about Rs. 3.6 trillion (C$70 billion) is expected to help the poorest 20 per cent of India's population.
Unlike previous attempts at introducing a minimum income policy program, the INC is adamant that this program will not be a 'top-up' program, meaning that it would not simply fill the income gaps for families making less than the federally-mandated monthly minimum income of Rs. 12,000 (C$233). The INC clarified that the program would be a once-a-year direct transfer of Rs. 72,000 to all families who qualify, meaning all families earning Rs. 11,999 or less per month would technically qualify to receive the yearly Rs. 72,000 transfer. The INC also clarified that the transfer would go directly into the bank accounts of the women of the beneficiary families and that the program doesn't discriminate between urban or rural areas.
Arun Jaitley, India's current Finance Minister with the BJP government, has criticized the move, saying that the current government is already transferring more to India's poor compared to what the INC has budgeted in their Monday announcement by 4.2 trillion rupees (C$81.5 billion) through eight different subsidies. If the INC is elected and the program is implemented as announced, the program is expected to cost about 1.4 per cent of India's GDP assuming India can maintain seven per cent economic growth over the next five years. Whether this program will gain any traction among voters will be determined in a few weeks as nearly 900 million Indians head to the polls over the course of five and a half weeks in the world's largest democracy. Polls will open April 11 and conclude on May 19, with results to be announced on May 23.