The Indian general election of 2024 is increasingly being seen as one of the most consequential events in the history of the Bharatiya civilisation.
On one side, it’s an existential election for the colonial idea of ‘India’, embodied in the present-day Congress party.
On the other side, in this changing world order, the 2024 election presents a unique opportunity for Bharat to regain its historical global prominence.
Consequently, in this existential war, the opposition has become more desperate than ever before. Recent trends indicate that the opposition will primarily fight this poll on two core strategies:
1. Intensifying caste divisions and conflicts
The opposition's persistent demand for a caste census and an increase in reservations is not only divisive, but also, if not countered effectively, will inflict irreversible damage on the Hindutva project of uniting Hindus by eradicating caste divisions.
2. Proposing fiscally irresponsible but tempting ‘freebies’
In desperation, the opposition will resort to this tactic, as witnessed in recent state elections. The freebies may inflict irreversible damage on India's economic growth story.
Moreover, when overdone, the freebies will destroy our young, energetic, and aspirational demographic dividend.
Due to these two corrosive strategies, Bharat may lose out on the golden opportunity the 2024 election presents, and with that it may lose its civilisational war for another millennium.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also categorically alluded to this scenario in his recent speech at the Independence Day, 2023. He mentioned how one small battle lost to invaders spiralled into a series of defeats and, thereafter, 1,000 years of slavery.
With excellent oratory and mass connect, the Prime Minister is trying to counter Rahul Gandhi’s demand for a caste census. He has also tried countering Congress’ freebie politics by calling it "revdi culture."
However, mere rhetoric is insufficient to counter the opposition’s tangible offerings of a caste census, greater caste-based reservations, and their alluring freebies.
Therefore, it is imperative for the Modi government to roll out a unique and substantive welfare scheme that tackles the opposition strategy, delivers public good, and wins them the 2024 election.
Welfare for Whom?
The Modi administration has already successfully implemented an array of transformative schemes, addressing various frontiers of governance, such as the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, PM SVANidhi, Jal Jeevan Mission, Swachh Bharat Mission, PM Jan Awas Yojna, PM Jan Arogya Yojna, and PM Janaushadi Pariyojna, among others.
These initiatives have revolutionised the welfare landscape, providing crucial support to farmers and street vendors, and addressing critical areas like water supply, sanitation, housing, and healthcare.
However, amidst these remarkable welfare schemes for various constituencies, one significant constituency remains relatively unaddressed — India's new generation.
This population group, aged between 3 and 23 years, accounts for 52 crore people, of which 32 crore are students in some form of formal education.
Notably, a welfare scheme for every student of India means a welfare scheme for every parent of India.
Every Indian household would become a beneficiary of this scheme, transcending barriers of caste, religion, region, and economic status.
To truly uplift the nation and set it on a path to inclusive and sustainable growth, focusing on this untouched frontier of education becomes not only a necessity, but a strategic imperative.
For India to be dubbed developed by 2047, quality education of the younger generation is vital.
Presently, of the 52-crore population aged 3–23 years, the number of students enrolled in schools stands at 32 crore.
India’s gross enrolment ratio (GER) stands at 97 per cent for elementary school (Class I-VIII), 78 per cent for secondary school (Class IX-X), 51 per cent for senior secondary school (Class XI-XII), and 27 per cent for higher education.
The solitary beacon of satisfaction in these statistics is the 97 per cent GER at the elementary school level. However, even at this stage, the quality of education remains a significant concern.
Notably, this high GER at the elementary level was made possible only through substantial government incentives in the form of midday meals and free education under the Right to Education Act.
Such measures ensured greater enrolment and daily attendance to school, and serves as a resounding confirmation that right incentives are indeed effective in promoting education.
Welfare Scheme Towards 'Education For All'
To extend this success further and achieve higher GERs across all age groups while still ensuring quality education, the Modi government should contemplate the launch of a grand welfare scheme for all students of India.
It can take the form of a 'student scholarship programme' that rewards each one of the 32 crore students in India and encourages the other 20 crore to join formal education.
Under this programme, every student would receive an annual scholarship of Rs 6,000 upon successful completion of a year or class.
It’s essential that this monetary reward is given not on mere attendance, but upon the completion of a year or class as an ‘earned reward’ for the student.
Further, in case of school students under 18 years of age, this annual reward shall be transmitted to their mother’s bank account.
Such a programme would not only serve as a powerful instrument for inclusive education by encouraging greater enrolment, but also as an incentive for greater academic progress.
It is pertinent to note that various smaller-scale schemes of similar nature already exist for enhancing education, such as the 'Seekho aur Kamao Scheme' for minorities or reduced fees for the scheduled caste and tribe students in government institutions. So, we won’t really be reinventing the wheel here.
The envisioned student scholarship programme, however, stands apart as it extends financial rewards to every student in India, transcending considerations of caste, religion, or the nature of the institution’s ownership structure (government or private).
If Not BJP, Congress Will
The urgency for such a programme is underscored by the Congress' proposal in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh.
In their manifesto, the party has pledged Rs 500 per month (equivalent to Rs 6,000 annually) for every government school student.
For senior grades, the amount proposed is Rs 12,000 and Rs 18,000.
Notably, the Congress scheme merely incentivises school enrolment. It does not hinge on successful year or class completion.
In stark contrast, the scholarship offered by the Modi government would be contingent upon an easy but important threshold of successful conclusion or passing of a year or class.
This important difference will make it an ‘earned reward’ or a ‘reward-bie’ instead of a ‘free-bie’.
Since the Congress party has made this proposal in the Madhya Pradesh state elections, it will most likely propose a similar scheme at the national level for the 2024 general election.
Even for the 2019 election, the Congress had proposed the dangerously populist NYAY scheme. For 2024, with their heightened desperation, they are only going to promise even more fiscally irresponsible schemes.
Thus, despite the substantial financial commitment required, it’s imperative for the Modi government to roll out a calibrated form of ‘good freebie’ and take the lead through this initiative, before similar promises are made by the Congress.
The proposed student scholarship programme holds several key advantages:
– A strategic tool for electoral gains to the BJP:
1. To counter the opposition on caste census
2. To counter extravagant and fiscally irresponsible but tempting freebies
– Incentive for inclusive and quality education:
1. The scheme incentivises and rewards quality education and diligence among India’s 32 crore students. Through an ‘earned reward’ mechanism, even with an easily qualifiable threshold of passing or completing a class or year, the values of hard work and merit will be instilled in young minds.
2. It incentivises inclusivity by encouraging the other 20 crore of the 52 crore people to join formal education, thereby boosting GERs at the secondary and senior secondary school levels and in higher education.
This initiative not only addresses immediate electoral challenges, but also aligns with a broader vision of fostering educational excellence and inclusivity, contributing to the nation's long-term progress and well-being.
Not An Expense, But An Investment In Bharat’s Future
Now, the key question is whether the Centre will be willing to triple its annual education expenditure by introducing a grand student welfare scheme?
Reflecting on the past nine years of the Modi government's tenure, one can observe that for a priority sector, the Modi government is capable of substantial budget increases, such as in case of railways and highways.
These earlier spends demonstrate this government's ability to allocate resources to areas deemed of utmost importance to the nation's long-term development.
The proposed student scholarship programme stands as an opportunity for the Centre to underscore its commitment to the welfare of India’s future; that is, its young, energetic, and aspirational generation.
Not to forget, this scheme is modelled as a ‘reward-bie’ and not a ‘free-bie’.
Among the youth and society at large, such an approach will instil a mindset and culture of ‘earned rewards’ through hard work and merit.
While it may require a considerable financial commitment, it is a strategic investment in the nation's long-term growth, youth’s education, social harmony, and a victory in Bharat’s civilisational battle in May 2024.
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