Is India a Welfare State?

Welfare state

Article 38 of the Indian Constitution reads: “The state shall strive to promote the welfare the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice-social economic and political-shall pervade all institutions of national life.”

The Indian Constitution, through its Directive Principles of State Policy, set up a roadmap for India – a general direction which the framers of the Constitution had envisioned for India in the decades to come. While these Directive Principles are not enforceable by law, they are considered fundamental to the very spirit of the Constitution. The six Directive Principles, which span Articles 36 to 51, lay down the framework for a welfare, socialist state. Article 39A promises “equal justice and free legal aid” to all citizens of the country, while Article 46 states that “The State shall promote, with special care, the education and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people”.

But is India truly a welfare state, simply by virtue of the fact that it claims to be one? A welfare state is one in which the Government undertakes to take care of the poor and underprivileged sections of the society. But is this definition enough? Are not all democratic governments therefore welfare states? Is a failed welfare state still a welfare state?

Critics of India’s welfare state claims feel that simply trying (and, in the case of India, failing to a large extent) to uplift the impoverished and homeless does not make a country a welfare state. One need look no further than The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MNREGA) for proof of the shocking regularity with which welfare policies fail in India. Envisioned as an corruption free measure to provide 100 days of work to rural dwellers, the policy got itself entangled in a bureaucratic and logistical nightmare.

Further arguments which could be made in this regard stem from the severe lack of awareness which the general public suffers from as far as welfare policies are concerned. A well planned welfare policy is still a failure if the target audience knows nothing about it and is therefore unable to avail of it. A welfare state is therefore not one which merely rolls out welfare for the benefit of the people, but one where the people are actually benefited.

At the same time, however, an absolute welfare state is a utopian ideology which might never truly become a feasible reality. Even the Nordic and Scandinavian countries like Norway and Sweden which are today hailed as the ideal welfare state, are far from achieving total welfare. Moreover, a fact often overlooked with these countries is the relatively low populations they house (5.2 million and 9.9 million respectively as compared to India’s 1.4 billion), which makes life for the governments of these countries infinitely easier.

Proponents of India’s welfare claim draw from this line of reasoning to assert that welfare is not an absolute term, but a work in progress. While welfare policies in some countries might enjoy relatively higher levels of success than those in India, it is the very act of striving towards the ideal of welfare, and the Indian government’s attempts to realize their goals which make India a welfare state, such parties argue.

As far as attempts go, there is no dearth of policies which the Indian Government has implemented with an objective of welfare. The Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, the Beti Bachao Andolan, the establishment of public health units (PHU), the execution of vaccination campaigns, and the granting of oil and gas subsidies are all examples of such policies. While they might not have succeeded to the extent desired, each has managed, in some form or another, to contribute some kind of additional benefit to the people of India.

From the Government’s end as well, there exists a strong motivation to ensure that welfare policies succeed. A large part of India’s voting population is in dire need of monetary aid from the Government, and if the current government wishes to stay in power, it must do it’s best to see that all its policies are as successful as possible. As the Indian public gradually grows more weary of rhetoric and promises of “Achhe Din”, and more and more laymen are judging the government on the tangible benefits it has granted them rather than on the strength of its spokespersons’ speeches, the government will now have to do everything in its power to make good on its promises.

If we were to characterize the end here as the ruling government’s desire to stay in power, and the means to achieving that as the proper implementation of welfare policies, then selfish as the ends may be, the means here justify the ends. The means, in fact, are an end in themselves; the end of human development. This argument holds especially true if one considers the long term, where the government’s desire to stay in power become a means – a means to achieving the end of further governance in future, where welfare policies would once again need to be implemented with degrees of success tangible to the voting public. This leads to a virtuous circle of welfare for the public and good governance for the country.

In practical terms, however, India has a long way to go before it can truly free itself from the shackles of corruption and red-tape to ensure that the welfare policies are putting enough money in the right pockets.

– Contributed by Prithviraj

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