NGOs to keep tab on politicians' tall promises

National Election Watch (NEW), a nationwide campaign comprising over 1,200 NGOs and other citizen-led organisations working on electoral reforms, improving democracy and governance in India, will analyse the manifestoes to be released by the parties prior to the April-May state assembly polls.

Thereafter, it will analyse whether the programmes and policies are pro-people and democratic, said a member.

"Every year, political parties announce several programmes in their manifestos, but in many cases, they do not fulfil their commitment. So this year, we have decided to analyse the manifestos immediately after they are released to make people aware about the agenda of the political parties," Biplab Halim, coordinator of NEW's West Bengal chapter, told IANS.

NEW is active in almost all states and has been monitoring elections for state assemblies and the Lok Sabha since 2002.

But in a never before initiative,  NEW would go through the manifestos in detail and then inform the people about the benefits and feasibility.

"To spread awareness, we will hold three zonal level people's conventions where experts, comprising representatives from all sectors of the society, will scrutinise the manifestos. We will also distribute leaflets containing the views of the experts in every constituency, besides uploading them on the web and releasing press statements," said Halim.

"Post-election, we will see if the parties are keeping their promises or not. If they  fail to keep their promises, we will inform the people," said Halim.

The executive body of NEW's state unit, comprising former chief justice of Calcutta High Court and Bombay High Court Chittatosh Mookerjee, ex-state director general of police Amiya Samanta and other eminent people, will also scrutinise the declarations made by the candidates during filing of nominations.

"We will check their criminal background and assets. Our objective is to ensure free and fair elections and improve democracy and governance in the country," said Halim.
NEW's state chapter will also hold a citizens' convention in south Kolkata by the month-end, he said.

Experts, civil society members and common people will be invited to give their views on "intellectuals in the true sense".

"In our state, people who are called intellectuals are taking sides of different political parties and campaigning for them. We believe that intellectuals should be neutral and play an important role in making people aware about the truth. So we have decided to arrange this convention," said Halim.

However, the political parties gave mixed reactions on the initiative.

Ruling Left Front major, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), welcomed the idea.

"Since the time we have been participating in the elections, we have urged people to analyse the manifestos of all parties. Again, in every pre-poll manifesto, we publish what all we had promised the last time around and what we have achieved," said former MP and CPI-M central committee member Mohammed Salim.

Main opposition Trinamool Congress was guarded. The party's all India secretary and union Minister of State for Shipping Mukul Roy said: "We are neither welcoming nor denouncing it. Any civil society or individual can analyse the manifestos".

The Congress, however, had reservations.

"I am not sure if it will be practical. All parties have separate manifestos and in case a coalition government is formed, then it is not possible to implement both parties' manifestos," said Pradip Bhattacharya, a senior state Congress leader.

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