India’s “freebie” debate got fresh wind after the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) promised a big welfare package if voted to power in poll-bound Gujarat. In a bid to take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, whose emphasis has been on infrastructure, AAP offered the state’s households free electricity, an unemployment dole and a basic income transfer for women, apart from free healthcare and schooling of enhanced quality. The fiscal feasibility of AAP’s largesse was unclear, but that’s not unusual on campaign trails. The broad question of which model serves people better holds all-India relevance all the same. Since roads and other transport systems enable economic activity, such build-ups of steel and concrete are important. Inequality of opportunity is a less visible gap but one that also needs to be plugged. Without lives improving for all, even the worst-off, our economy would risk falling into a “middle-income trap” of stagnancy before its full emergence. Weak consumption at lower levels of our pyramid is already sending us warning signals. We need a population that’s healthy and well-schooled overall. Else, rapid growth till 2047 and beyond will prove elusive.
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