Where nothing is new

The Congress manifesto did not own up to the fact that during its last 10 year rule, India was gripped by uncontrolled inflation and corruption.

As vision documents, election manifestos issued by the political parties of India are liable to bring tears to an unwary ideologist by the corpus of noble and righteous intentions put together. They are high on intent, serious in contention. The mushy claims they make might tempt one to put on hold all scepticism and to take policy statements with a willing suspension of disbelief. The only trouble is, political parties themselves issuing such manifestos seem not too inclined to set great store by them.Therefore, it is prescient to examine if any political party promising the sky for the electorate has delivered on earlier occasions or not. The Congress manifesto promises more investment in infrastructure, poverty alleviation, healthcare, pension schemes and other people-friendly initiatives, as well as inclusive development. Prime minister Manmohan Singh said he believed the Congress manifesto underlined the party vision for growth and job creation in great detail. He said the UPA’s agenda for growth was the ‘best’ one and pointed out that economic growth rates had been much higher in the UPA regime (8.4 per cent in UPA-1 and 7.3 in UPA-2) as opposed to those in the previous NDA government. 

On careful examination of its manifesto in 2009, one can notice repeat of Congress promises. It failed to act on the fiscal responsibility bill and the manufacturing sector and to concede that business environment during its tenure for 10 years worsened. The manifesto did not own up to the fact that during its time, India was gripped by uncontrolled inflation and corruption. As per the Election Commission guidelines, the manifestos should be transparent about the ways in which election promises would be funded.

It must be granted that the Congress manifesto is more vulnerable to scrutiny in the sense that the party headed two full-term governments. But one is clueless, in view of the atmosphere of general gloom and doom that pervaded the second term of the UPA, how it forecasts a return of 8 per cent growth in three years, should it come back to power. Its silence on foreign direct investment (FDI) is instructive in view of the fact that the nationalist BJP sent feelers that it would welcome more foreign direct investment in defence, if elected, but would delay opening up the country's market of more than 1.2 billion people to international retail chains like Wal-Mart. 

Among the trailers released to the media, BJP sources said that it had set up ambitious goals of creating 250 million jobs over the next decade, building up to 100 'smart' cities and constructing a high-speed rail network. While there is no credible hint on the part of the Congress manifesto about ways to generate more jobs and areas to shore up infrastructure or why it lagged therein, the BJP is yet to give a road-map.

Should it be construed that Congress, which has been lauded for working on its social development goals, like no previous government ever did, did not go for a chest-thumping mode as it became wary that bragging would be counter-productive like the “India Shining” slogan of the NDA? The party in its 2009 manifesto vowed to build on the ‘outstanding success’ of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act but its 2014 manifesto, pitiably, lacks the girth to reaffirm its spirit of the rights-based approach to development through legislation on the rights to information, education, and food in the last 10 years of the UPA rule. 

Old wine...

But if the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act and the food security law are two of few achievements, that make the UPA proclaim that it lived up to some of its promises, it has left many glaring omissions like Women's Reservation Bill and the Communal Violence Bill that must rankle with it. Many such promises make the 2014 manifesto read like samples of old wine in new bottle.

If all such holistic manifestos are cobbled up together, one can get a foretaste of what bedevils India. Apart from the manifestos of the mainstream and ambitious regional parties, like the one touted by AIADMK supremo J Jayalalitha emphasising her commitment to distribute freebies, hitherto enjoyed by the people of Tamil Nadu, to people across the country, we get a dalit manifesto that seeks dalits to be given a stake in real estate, wherever government, semi-government and private organisations set up industrial and commercial shopping complexes on land given free by the government, that in IT parks and corridors, there should be an exclusive incubation park for dalit entrepreneurs, that reservation rights to dalits among Christian and Muslim communities be extended. 

Samajwadi Party, in its national manifesto, woos Muslims as well as upper castes, promising quota in police and other government jobs for minority community, release of “innocent” youths jailed on terror charges and constitution of an Upper Caste Commission besides sops such as provisions for free education and healthcare in the country, and plans to include 17 backward castes in the SC category "if a non-Congress, non-BJP government of which SP is a part is formed at the Centre after the Lok Sabha polls". 

Sifting all the election manifestos ready at hand, one wishes, if it is possible for any incumbent government to act on the deliverables among them, in a broad panorama of development, taking care that pandering to the interests of multiple niche groups does not infringe upon the collective well-being of the nation. But above all, we need a visionary government that does not treat its citizens as clusters of vote-banks.

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