While the Union government has put the Direct Cash Transfers (DCT) scheme on the fast track, the Opposition is not impressed. The BJP actually went to the extent of calling it a violation of the model code of conduct in the context of Gujarat going to the polls and accused the government of using cash transfers to influence voters.
Is that routine political hyperbole or is it backed by facts? For answers, let’s examine a study published this October by the World Bank, one of the biggest proponents of cash transfers. The paper, titled “Conditional Cash Transfers, Political Participation, and Voting Behavior,” studied voting patterns in the republic of Colombia, where the cash transfer project “Familias en Acción” (FA) is in vogue.
According to the study, those covered under the scheme had 2.5 per cent more chance of voting in the election than non-beneficiaries. That was just the teaser. Here’s the juicy bit: not only did the beneficiaries of the scheme tend to vote more often, “but also expressed a stronger preference (around 2 percentage points) for the party that implemented and expanded the program.”
The study also did not underestimate the Opposition’s fears. It said, “Another possible explanation is that FA was strategically targeted and motivated by clientelism and vote buying.”
However, the identification strategy and data available did not allow the study to distinguish between any of the competing interpretations, it said, adding: “these are interesting questions to be addressed in future research.” Any wonder then that senior ministers in the UPA describe the DCT as a “gamechanger”, coming as it does close to the next Lok Sabha elections?
Speaking to Express, a senior Congress leader, on condition of anonymity, said the party would be happy if the DCT resulted in a two per cent increase in its vote share. “But that doesn’t mean we are buying votes. That is nonsense. When a good scheme is implemented, voters would prefer us on their own. This is not akin to buying votes,” the leader, a Union minister, contended.