The name is Gandhi

Naming of government schemes after Congress’s first family is crude advertising that belittles voters

Written by The Indian Express | Published:October 18, 2013 2:29 am

Naming of government schemes after Congress’s first family is crude advertising that belittles voters

The Congress leadership has evidently staked a lot of political capital in passing the Food Security Act. But just to make sure nobody misses that point,the party is considering renaming the central scheme under the act. It will be called either Indira Amma Anna Yojana or Indira Amma Bakshya Suraksha Yojana,according to Union Food Minister K.V. Thomas.

If this is accomplished,it will be the latest in a long and growing scroll of government welfare schemes named after one or the other member of the Nehru-Gandhi family. An RTI revealed that among Central schemes and institutions,16 are named after Rajiv Gandhi,eight after Indira Gandhi and three after Jawaharlal Nehru. There are others who occasionally figure — Atal Bihari Vajpayee has one scheme named after him,Ambedkar was chosen for four others,post-’90s. But,by and large,the Congress’s first family is all over schemes that touch the lives of citizens,from drinking water to rural electrification,from pensions to creches,from ambulances to sporting facilities,not to mention the many smaller missions and roads and trophies memorialising the family. This is replicated in Congress states as well. The calculation is clear — it is an attempt to brand a government scheme,make sure that the public is aware of the political regime that conceptualised the plan,and rewards them electorally. When it was discovered that the NREGA was not associated with the Congress in many areas,for instance,it was renamed the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. But the Congress must recognise that putting its stamp all over its favoured schemes could end up undermining their efficacy by alienating the next dispensation. Experience has also shown that non-Congress state governments do a better job with the Congress-led Centre’s flagship programmes,as in the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana — a warning to parties against trying to “own” a government initiative,funded by public money.

To be sure,development schemes do not exist in a political vacuum. It may be natural for parties to try and market their welfare interventions and claim credit. But this must be achieved with better implementation and communication,as happens in other contexts. Instead of devoting greater energy to smoothing a scheme’s progress and making sure it reaches all beneficiaries,it often seems that the Congress thinks that affixing a name is enough. Naming every scheme after the Gandhis also insults the people by turning their entitlements into an advertising opportunity. It makes important welfare policies appear like personal charity,rather than what a democratic government owes citizens.

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