India Votes: Unemployment, Agrarian Distress and Basic Income
India's 900 million-strong electorate began voting in a general election on April 11. The voting will continue in seven phases until May 19. India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or Indian People’s Party, has attempted to focus its campaign rhetoric on national security issues but opposition parties such as the Indian National Congress are attempting to shift the debate to the economy. A snap decision in November 2018 to render all 500 and 2,000 rupee banknotes invalid and to immediately replace them with new notes caused widespread cash shortages and economic disruption. Though India’s economy isn’t as based in agriculture as in previous years, agriculture still accounts for 70% of livelihoods in Indian rural areas, and farming has become increasingly unprofitable, leading thousands of farmers to march to state and national capitals to demand action, and farmers have committed suicide at rates of over 10,000 per year nationally since the 1990s. India also faces the highest rate of unemployment the country has seen in 45 years.
Two months ago, Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi announced that, were his party to form the next government, it would implement a basic income guarantee for every poor Indian. Questions remain about how the party would fund this guarantee and whether or not it would draw funding from existing welfare programs. Joining us for analysis is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley Pranab Bardhan. He’s done theoretical and field studies research on rural institutions in the developing world and has written extensively about the possibility of implementing a basic income in India.