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India's New Election Battleground: Guaranteed Income

India's New Election Battleground: Guaranteed Income

A political battle is brewing in India over a proposal to implement one of the world's boldest experiments in poverty alleviation. On Monday, the leader of the country's opposition Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi, pledged to deliver a guaranteed income to every poor citizen in India if his party wins a parliamentary election set for later this year.


The proposal, if implemented, would be by far the largest ever government attempt to guarantee citizens' incomes. Around 50 million Indians, or 3.5 percent of the population, live in extreme poverty today, earning less than $1.90 per day. The scheme would likely extend beyond the poorest of the poor.

Guaranteed income has been gaining steady support in India for years, in part because it's seen as a silver bullet for rampant corruption and government waste. Under India's current byzantine welfare scheme, around 36 percent of all government assistance doesn't make it into people's pockets. Basic income proponents believe that number could be reduced by moving toward a simpler and more direct transfer system.

Mr. Gandhi didn't clarify who would receive the new benefit, and one of the biggest challenges will be determining which segments of the population qualify. Just this week, a former advisor to the current Modi government offered a similar proposal that would see 75 percent of rural households receive around $250 from the government each year. The scheme would cost a fairly manageable 1.3 percent of GDP, which could be balanced by cuts to other social welfare programs.

But with a big election looming, the debate over guaranteed income in India is as much about political maneuvering as good governance. The opposition's announcement was strategically timed to underscore their generosity ahead of the release of a government budget expected to be chock-full of popular handouts. The rural voters who would benefit most from the proposal turned out in big numbers for the Congress Party in a recent spate of state-level election victories that's brought them back from the political wilderness.

The call for guaranteed income is now set to be a defining issue in India's upcoming election season. It will be an important test case for politicians around the world who see it as a possibly transformative policy solution.

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As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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