On Saturday, when West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chairperson Mamata Banerjee announced the Griha Laxmi card for every Goan family should the party comes to power in the western coastal state, people living in West Bengal found an eerie similarity of her approach with that of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the West Bengal assembly elections earlier this year.
“I am delighted to announce the #GrihaLaxmiCard, our solemn promise to financially empower the women of every Goan household. Under this, an assured monthly income support of Rs. 5,000/month (Rs. 60,000 yearly) will be provided to every family in Goa,” Banerjee announced on Twitter. This announcement came a day before the party said that Banerjee was scheduled for a two-day visit to Goa from December 13. She is to meet editors of prominent media houses, Goa TMC leaders, and address three public meetings at Benaulim, Panjim and Assanora.
Direct cash benefit transfers have been an integral part of Banerjee’s West Bengal government’s policies over the past few years and such a promise for Goa is not surprising. The surprise element, especially for the West Bengal voters, was the extent of such help. The TMC has promised a 10-times higher financial support to Goan families than what the government of West Bengal offers.
In West Bengal, one of Banerjee’s pet projects, Lakshmir Bhandar, offers a direct benefit transfer of Rs. 500 per month to female heads of families from the general category and Rs. 1,000 per month to those from the Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and other backward classes (OBC) categories.
“Ohh! Goan women get Rs 5,000 a month while Bengali women get Rs 500 a month in Bengal?! That's nice to see the value of equal citizenship in different parts of the country under TMC,” Calcutta-based independent journalist Sohini wrote on Twitter.
Political observers found this promise’s similarity with the attempts made by the BJP ahead of the Bengal assembly elections, when they made promises that many thought improbable. At least, several of those promises were far greater than what the BJP had implemented nationally or in states ruled by them.
To counter the popularity of Banerjee’s cash transfer schemes, the BJP had offered a sum a few times higher. These included reservation of Rs. 3,000 monthly stipend to Matua community group leaders and Hindu priests, Rs 3,000 monthly pension to senior citizens among kirtan singers, Rs 3,000 monthly pension to widows and Rs 6,000 annual grant to fishermen.
They promised Rs 350 daily wage for tea garden workers, whereas in BJP-ruled Assam, tea workers get a daily wage of Rs 205. They promised a one-time grant of Rs 2 lakh to every girl child once they turned 18. This was way higher than the chief minister’s patent and international award-winning Kanyashree scheme.
Following this announcement, political observers in West Bengal had pointed out that the BJP, in no state ruled by them, had such schemes running.
Coming to the TMC’s Goa promise for women, the party has said the scheme will benefit 3.5 lakh families in Goa and will cost the government Rs. 1,500 to 2,000 crore, or about 6 to 8% of the state’s budget. Farmers to get an additional Rs 4,000 from the state government along with the Centre’s Rs, 6,000 per annum under the PM Kisan Samman, 200 days of work in a year under the MGNREGA scheme,
Going by population, Goa has an estimated population of 15.28 lakh in 2021, according to the Census of India, whereas West Bengal’s estimated population in 2021 is 10.19 crore, or 66.6 times higher than Goa. In contrast, the Goa scheme’s budget has been pegged at about Rs 2,000 crore, while the West Bengal project's budget has been pegged at Rs 18,000 crore, or only nine times higher. In Goa, one-fifth of the population is considered entitled, nearly the same ratio as West Bengal.
According to pshephologist Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University in Calcutta, the TMC had to offer a higher amount to Goa voters because the per capita income in the state in higher than West Bengal and a Rs 500-Rs 1,000 monthly payment would not have attracted them.
“When you do not have organisational reach to people, you make lucrative announcements to become a talking point. The BJP’s Bengal promises had reflected its desperation and organisational weakness in Bengal, while many people also considered it unrealistic and false promises. The TMC’s Goa promise can elicit a similar response among Goan people, especially considering the state’s debt burden,” Chakraborty said.
In 2020, a government of India press statement said Goa had the highest GDP per capita among all Indian states. Goa’s per capita net state domestic product stood at Rs. 303,687 in 2019-20, while West Bengal’s was Rs. 71,719, or over four times higher. Ideally, this should entitle West Bengal’s people to a higher financial assistance but politics has its own equations. Chakraborty said that the TMC’s promise for Goa would also trigger a sense of deprivation among West Bengal’s voters.
On Sunday, the Congress’ Goa in-charge, P Chidambaram, called out the Griha Laxmi card as unrealistic. He wrote in a tweet, “Here is a math that deserves the Nobel Prize for Economics. A monthly grant of Rs. 5000 to a woman in 3.5 lakh households in Goa will cost Rs. 175 crore a month. That is Rs. 2100 crore a year.” In a following tweet, he said, “It is a “small” sum for the State of Goa that had an outstanding debt of Rs. 23,473 crore at the end of March 2020. God bless Goa! Or should it be God save Goa?”
Responding to Chidambaram, the TMC’s Lok Sabha MP from Bengal and Goa in-charge, Mahua Moitra, said, wrote on Twitter, “Yes sir @PChidambaram_IN Rs. 5000 to 3.5 lakh Goan households = Rs. 2100 crores is 6-8% of total budget which is perfectly doable. Good economics in depressed post covid scenario requires putting cash in hand & liquidity into system.”
The TMC recently built its organisation in Goa depending mostly on poaching from the Congress camp and has formalised an electoral alliance with the Goa-based Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP). The state is scheduled for assembly elections next year. While the TMC formally says toppling the Pramod Sawant-led BJP government is its goal, political observers think the TMC's primary goal is to replace the Congress as the main opposition party in the state assembly.