BJP manifesto promises a New India, minus funding plans

BJP manifesto promises a New India, minus funding plans

The BJP is selling the dream of a New India through its manifesto. (PTI Photo)

Three days before the first vote is cast in the seven-phase 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released its election manifesto or ‘Sankalp Patra’ to a big show of strength by its leadership.

The document makes 75 pledges and promises to fulfil all expectations of the people in the next five years, if voted back to power. Reaching out to a cross-section of voters, the BJP’s plan is to sell the dream of a New India riding on the back of investment-driven growth, with big spends envisaged in infrastructure, industry and agriculture among others.

Big infra push

The biggest of these was fresh investments of over Rs 126 lakh crore in the next five years, a large chunk of which would be on infrastructure. Yes, over a whopping Rs 100 lakh crore! This is certainly the mother of all promises as far as investments go, by any ruling party/government in India.

However, what the party did not clarify was where the money for such massive spends was going to be found. Its Budget has already been presented. Is the ruling party relying solely on new sources of revenues and expecting its next Budget, in July 2019, to levy new taxes and cesses and burden the people?

What about jobs?

The manifesto, which was released in the backdrop of a lot of hue and cry on jobless growth, could not promise much on the jobs front. It gave no details on how the government, which has failed to create promised 2 crore jobs per year, is going to attempt it, if voted back to power.

The word jobs/ employment has been used a dozen times in the manifesto but nowhere does it give a detailed explanation of how many jobs would be created and in which sector.

Compared with the Congress manifesto, which was released last week, the BJP's document falls short of expectations, both on the jobs front and how they are planning to finance such large promises.

Congress was also criticised for not providing details of how it planned to finance its Minimum Income Guarantee scheme, NYAY, that pledges Rs 72,000 per year to the poor. But at least, Congress has emphasised that taxes will not be increased even after incurring such an expenditure.

The BJP, which had earlier criticised the Congress, has not said a word on how it would generate resources for its ambitious plan, even though its spends appear bigger.

In fact, after providing a tax relief of up to Rs 5 lakh to the salaried class in February’s interim Budget, it made a new promise to revise the tax slabs and tax benefits further to ensure more cash and greater purchasing power for the middle class.

Where’s the money?

Obviously, the current state of revenues do not appear to have space for such large spends. Even with last month's Goods and Services Tax (GST) collection of Rs 1.06 lakh crore together with the direct tax collection of Rs 11.5 lakh crore, the government is expected to have a tax shortfall.

In fact, the sources in the Finance Ministry, on the condition of anonymity, told DH that the government this year has converted subsidies worth about Rs 80,000 crore into loans to meet the fiscal deficit target of 3.4% of GDP.

There are other promises for which money will have to be found. There is a new promise to extend the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana (PM-Kisan) to all farmers. This goes further than the original promise of ensuring financial support to farmers owning land up to 2 hectares.The BJP has also promised to give a pension to small and marginal farmers above the age of 60 years.

These two promises are not time-bound and, therefore, perhaps one can discount the expenditures they entail, yet the overall thrust on investment needs to be explained in more detail.

 DeMon balm

Some of the other promises have to do with the fall out of demonetisation. Even though Prime Minister Modi has not admitted till date that 2016 move was a blunder, efforts have been made in the manifesto to placate every section which was hit by the twin moves of demonetisation and GST.

A sum of Rs 1 lakh crore has been proposed for the MSME sector, the backbone of India's economy and the largest employer. This sector had been hard hit by demonetisation because small businesses in India depend only on cash.

A National Traders Commission has been promised, aimed small traders who were hit by demonetisation and GST, both. Small traders were up in arms after GST almost swallowed their businesses. Surat, the second largest city in PM Modi’s home state after Ahmedabad, was the epicentre of protests after GST came to force. It is a hub of textile and diamond business.

Though the BJP won the Surat seat, it had to make a lot of efforts to placate voters. Now the party has promised to provide an accident insurance of Rs 10 lakh to all the traders registered under GST.

On the lines of Kisan credit card, they have pledged to create a scheme to give merchant credit card to registered merchants. Traders, the traditional vote bank of BJP, immediately responded with a thumbs up. The All India Traders' body, CAIT, issued a statement minutes after manifesto hailing the move.

The manifesto is high on promises and Congress has already called it another “jumla” or poll time promise that will never see the light of the day. While the Congress’ charge may be considered the reaction of an Opponent, the credibility of the BJP promises will depend on whether it can substantiate its proposals with ideas on funding in the coming days.