Paying heed to the words of the founding fathers

The Modi government has taken to heart several directives laid out in Part IV of the Indian Constitution. Working towards a welfare state is one of the principles
Paying heed to the words of the founding fathers
(Express Illustration | Sourav Roy)

The western media and much of the English media in the country have been describing the Modi government as a ‘right wing’ government. This is absurd when you consider the massive investments made by the government over the last 10 years on poverty alleviation and to ensure ease of living for families below the poverty line. Those who lazily indulge in this left-versus-right binary seem to forget that the Indian Constitution imposes an obligation on every government to work towards a welfare state. These provisions are outlined in Part IV, titled the Directive Principles of State Policy.

The directive principles have gained considerable heft over the last few decades with the Supreme Court pushing the envelope and insisting on the enforceability of these provisions. But it is left to the wisdom and commitment of each government on how much importance it would give to Part IV. Some governments have occasionally taken these provisions seriously, as when the Indira Gandhi government launched loan melas for the poor in the 1970s after the nationalisation of banks. But the programme got mired in controversy because it soon degenerated into ‘Congress melas’ and was not backed up by impartial implementation and monitoring.  

When these principles become the guiding postulates for the government and when the prime minister sets punishing targets for each ministry, monitors the results regularly and ensures impartial implementation—Sabka saath, sabka vikas—the directive principles cease to be mere platitudes. They become the fulcrum of governance, as in the case of the Narendra Modi government.

Article 39 expects the State to take care of the “health and strength of workers” and to ensure that children are not abused. Article 47 says the State must regard it as a “primary duty” to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.

The Modi government’s Ayushman Bharat scheme is the largest health insurance scheme in the world which provides cashless health cover up to `5 lakh per family per year to 120 million of the most vulnerable families with 550 million members who are at the bottom of the pyramid. This is a perfect example of the link between directive principles and good governance.

Similarly, the delivery of free ration every month to 810 million people is meant to ensure that the basic food needs of the poor are met. This is truly astounding. No other nation in the world can possibly visualise such a mammoth programme and ensure its diligent delivery month after month. This is a scheme that injects life into Article 47. Several governments in the past have offered free rations to the poor but the delivery of this programme to 810 million people by the Modi government is truly staggering.

Add to this, provision of tap water to 140 million households; subsidy for construction of toilets in 110 million households; and provision of subsidised LPG connections to 100 million households. These are just some examples of schemes which are in complete consonance with the directive principles. There are complaints that the toilet scheme and the tap water scheme have not been effectively implemented in some regions or by some states. This is the result of either petty politics or poor administration at the local level, but that cannot take away the grand vision and overall effort towards improving the lot of the poor.

Article 42 directs the State to ensure that there is “just, humane conditions of work” and “maternity relief”. The government’s landmark initiative to increase the maternity leave provision for women workers from 12 to 26 weeks is a major initiative and a humane measure to enhance the emotional and physical wellbeing of the newborn and the mother. This is Article 42 at work.

Article 41 says the State should take effective steps to ensure “right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement and in other cases of underserved want”. There is a lot of emphasis on gender equality and women’s empowerment in Articles 39, 41 and 42. The registration of 70 percent of the homes built under the PM Awas Yojana, all subsidised cooking gas connections in the name of the woman of the household, and the massive investment in the toilet scheme are prime examples of these articles permeating government policy.

Article 43 directs the State to ensure a proper living wage and working conditions for the working class. Over many decades, several governments have strengthened labour laws. The Modi government has taken this forward by bringing in the labour reforms bill in 2020.

When one examines what the Modi government has delivered over the last 10 years, one can see that the entire effort has been to improve the living conditions of poor families and to fulfil the objectives listed by the founding fathers in the directive principles. It is a daunting task, but the government’s approach is one of confidence.

In the Nehruvian era, it was said that the directive principles in Part IV are just a bunch of shibboleths and a set of grandiose ideas that are unworkable. Also, since Part IV declares that these provisions are unenforceable in courts of law, it was thought that these were just pious intentions of the founding fathers.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has in several judgements elevated the status of Part IV and, more importantly, injected new life into these articles. Seen from this angle, the Modi government will score high on the enforcement of these principles. Even hardcore communist governments in the states have not had the gumption or the vision to implement such far-reaching social welfare schemes. Nor could the communists do much when they supported or became part of some fleeting coalition governments at the federal level in the past.

Thus, the Modi government is a right wing government if the word ‘right’ means doing the right thing. If it is meant to dub the government as ideologically right as opposed to the ideological left, then the critics would be way off the mark, because the Modi government has decided to make the directive principles the Magna Carta of poverty alleviation.

A Surya Prakash

Vice-Chairman, Executive Council, Prime Ministers Museum and Library, New Delhi

(Views are personal)

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