The Congress had seemed to be in a relatively better position when the election year began, but its efforts to create an anti-incumbency atmosphere in the country were derailed by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government post-Pulwama and Balakot.
Having struggled to counter the dominant narrative of nationalism and Hindutva created by the ruling party, the Congress announced its minimum income guarantee, or NYAY, scheme for the poorest families on March 25 to wrest the momentum back from the BJP just two weeks before the start of the election. Through this rather late announcement, the Congress hoped to create a counter-narrative by bringing the focus of the election back to unemployment and economic issues, as well as to project itself as pro-poor.
So did NYAY prove to be a game changer for the party and its allies? Did it resonate with the voters? Not as much as the Congress would have liked, perhaps. Even as the post-poll survey conducted by Lokniti found a greater awareness of the proposed scheme among voters than during the pre-poll survey conducted in late March, when the scheme had only just been announced, the survey found that information about the scheme had yet not reached many of the voters it was actually supposed to benefit. While overall, 59% of the respondents nationally were found to be aware of NYAY, up from 48% in the pre-poll survey, among the poorest voters (those belonging to households earning only up to ₹3,000 a month) who stand to benefit from it the most, awareness levels about NYAY registered only a marginal increase of two percentage points (from 44% to 46%) during the past one month. This means that despite popularising the scheme through advertisements, banners and hoardings, the Congress may not have been able to get the information through to an important section of its target audience in time. On the other hand, awareness about the NYAY scheme was found to be the greatest among the higher income groups who have traditionally been the core supporters of the BJP and are not going to be the beneficiaries of the scheme.
Nevertheless, the Congress can draw comfort from the fact that awareness levels about the scheme seem to have gone up across all States with greatest increases being registered in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Kerala. Also, awareness levels about NYAY seem to be strongly correlated with voters’ opinion about Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Those who had heard about NYAY were almost twice as likely to want to see Mr. Gandhi as the next Prime Minister than those who had not; although even among them (those aware of NYAY), Mr. Modi was the choice of a plurality.
While making people aware of the scheme is one thing, what did people make of the Congress’s promise? Did they view it positively or did they look at it cynically as just another poll gimmick? The post-poll survey found voters to be holding a mixed opinion. Around 36% thought the Congress would be able to implement the scheme if it came to power, and an equal proportion thought otherwise. Moreover, around 25%, or one-fourth, were not sure or could not say whether the Congress would be able to keep its promise. The poorest voters were found to hold a similar opinion.
The survey found that the Narendra Modi government’s PM-KISAN scheme under which ₹2,000 is transferred to the bank accounts of farmers every four months, might have ended up overshadowing and blunting the effect of NYAY. Three out of five farmers who had received the money in the past one month were in favour of giving the government another chance. What’s more, this pro-government sentiment among such farmers did not wane even with the knowledge of NYAY as they were equally determined to support the Modi government.
To conclude, the NYAY scheme and its slogan, Ab Hoga NYAY, dominated the Congress campaign. However, the delay in announcing the scheme, its failure to reach out to its actual beneficiaries and benefits to the voters under PM-KISAN, collectively, seem to have cost the party a big leap that it was hoping for in this election.