Populism in Tamil Nadu

The social contract of most societies tries to balance the extent of a safety net with volatility in growth. Or so professional Economists who study this tell us. That debate amongst developed societies such as America and Scandinavia is at a level that’s difficult to imagine for many in India where basic calorific intake isn’t always met. It is obviously far easier, however, to look at things that surprisingly work well in our own society in terms of what they aim to accomplish. The nascent ‘Amma Unavagam‘ that provides breakfast and lunch at very cheap rates appears to be one such candidate. A Soup Kitchen experiment in a country with such rampant poverty and malnutrition is possibly the best way to make calories reach people — provided it’s run well and can scale.

The first thing that one notices as one enters the premises of Amma Unavagam is that they are surprisingly well maintained — clean, orderly and efficient. The staff are all women from Self Help Groups. The food in terms of tastiness is reasonable; the point of comparison may be that the Idli in Amma Unavagam tastes better than what most college hostels in the State serve their students. The water in the premises is reverse osmosis treated. The kitchen is visible to onlookers and is again very clean and mostly automated. The three locations of Amma Unavagam visited in three different cities — Chennai, Salem and Coimbatore — were are all uniform in terms of quality and even the clientele. There was the odd middle class person, a couple of lower middle class people, some daily wage earners and mostly the very poor.

Sendhil Mullainathan’s research on the cognitive ability of people under stress owing to scarce resources is interesting to consider in this regard. On a related note, a field experiment that’s in progress among North Madras’ malnourished cycle-rickshaw pullers measures the impact of extra calorific intake on their productivity and cognitive ability. This experiment simply seeks to provide more calories (not better nutrition) to a group of emaciated rickshaw pullers whose intake prior to intervention was 1,200 calories a day. Of that, on average, 15% of the calories was from sugar in alcohol. The preliminary results, one is told indicated a significant increase in cognitive ability and productivity by a mere additional 300 calories a day. Or, in other words, as long as the truly destitute don’t have to worry about going hungry, their mental resources for other productive activities will be available at a much better ratio. Seems like a far more reasonable thing to do compared to providing subsidy for LPG, does it not? An important aspect about the delivery of this form — a Soup Kitchen subsidy — as opposed to schemes that require documentation is that the truly destitute are also the set of people who find it most taxing to obtain and preserve documentation.

Other recent populist projects of the State Government of Tamil Nadu include subsidised mineral water, subsidised vegetables and medical insurance apart from an already well functioning PDS. Some of them make better sense than others. But the uniform aspect has been surprisingly good execution. An interesting point of observation, based on the research cited above, will be to measure how the presence of PDS and the availability of food grain through it correlate to per capita income and education levels across states in India. And more importantly how they improve over time. The next post will attempt to do that.

4 thoughts on “Populism in Tamil Nadu

  1. hemen parekh

    When will People win ?

    > BJP leaders are saying,

    ” On our own , we will win 272+ seats in Lok Sabha ”

    > AAP says ,

    ” We will win 47+ seats in Delhi ”

    > Congress says ,

    ” We will form the next government at the center ”

    > Regional parties are saying ,

    ” Third front will win and come to power ”

    > Herr Gobbels , propaganda minister of Hitler , said ,

    ” Tell a lie a hundred times and it will get accepted as truth ”

    > Sundry ” Pre-poll Opinion Surveys ” predict ,

    ” Saffron will lead everywhere but they will fall short of
    absolute majority

    NDA – 2 will suffer from the same debilitating disease as
    with UPA – 2 , viz : Coalition Dharma ”

    > Voters are saying ,

    ” Stop mud-slinging , name-calling , abusing each other

    Stop trying to bribe us by offering free rice , tablets ,
    smartphones etc

    Stop begging us to vote for you

    For a change , listen to what WE are telling YOU

    We will vote to power , only that party , which firmly commits
    itself in Poll Manifesto , following :

    ‘ Within 100 days of coming to power , we will amend the Representation of Peoples Act , enabling voters of any constituency to RECALL its elected MP / MLA , if they are unhappy with his / her performance , at the end of 6 months of being elected ‘

    For a change , We , the People , want to win – and permanently !

    Once every month , we want our elected Representative to hold a public meeting in our locality and tell us what he has done for us during the preceding 30 days – against the TARGETS that we set for him / her !

    If MPs / MLAs want to triple their salaries – no problem !

    But no more ” Fixed Tenures ” !

    * hemen parekh ( 07 Nov 2013 )

  2. hemen parekh

    Opinions are subject to change !

    Including opinions of political parties about ” Opinion Polls ”

    In the following cases , what were our opinions – before and after ?

    > Ordinance before Rahul Gandhi’s Press Conference

    > Asaram Bapu before arrest

    > Rape Law after Nirbhaya

    > Kejriwal after Maulana meeting

    > Satyagraha before Gandhiji

    > RTI coverage of political parties before Supreme Court ruling

    > CBI before CAG audits

    > Lalu Yadav as Railway Minister and after Fodder Scam

    > Jan LokPal after Anna Hazare

    > Elections after T N Seshan / NOTA

    > Inflation after Onions

    > ASI after Unnao gold digging ……. etc

    We are all humans – not some computer algorithm.

    so , as we grow up and get influenced by people and events around us , we do change our opinions

    After each event , a new perspective emerges

    We learn to judge people in new perspective

    We also try to change other people and future outcome of events , by influencing them with our own opinions

    So what is wrong in both , Congress and BJP having changed their opinions about ” Opinion Polls ” over time ?

    Of Course , nothing !

    Only thing they won’t admit ( at least , publicly ) , is :

    ” At any point of time , the prevailing circumstances dictate our opinions .

    We reserve the right to modify our opinions from time to time , in order
    to suit the circumstances

    In politics , just as there are no permanent friends ( or enemies ), there
    are no permanent virtues ( or vices ) – nor permanent opinions !

    We are ” Rational ” people who must , for ever , consider what is in our
    best interest , at a point of time ( ala ” Game Theory / Nash Equilibrium ”
    of John Nash )

    End of the controversy !

    So be it !

    * hemen parekh ( 08 Nov 2013 )

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