Cong manifesto shifts narrative

Congress President Rahul Gandhi, senior party leaders Sonia Gandhi, AK Antony and Congress General Secretary K C Venugopal release party's manifesto for Lok Sabha polls 2019, in New Delhi. PTI

The Congress manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections has made a welcome effort to put the focus of the elections on policies and programmes that affect the lives of people, in a pre-poll atmosphere sought to be vitiated by provocative rhetoric and negative emotions. Manifestos are not often taken seriously because most promises made in them are not implemented, even if the party that makes them gets a chance to be in government. But many promises define the parties that make them and give the voters a chance to judge their positions on issues, politics and society. The Congress manifesto shows the party as politically liberal, socially progressive and economically welfarist. It has taken special care to address some of the issues that have come up during the five-year rule of the Modi government. It has tried to project an alternative vision of governance and development, very different from the Modi government’s. 

The NYAY scheme, which guarantees Rs 72,000 minimum income to at least five crore poor families, as announced by the party last week, is the most important element in the manifesto. The party has given some more details about the scheme and said that it would be implemented in phases and would not cost more than 2% of the GDP. On the jobs front, where the Modi government’s record is poor, the Congress has promised to recruit to 34 lakh jobs at various levels in the government  sector by March 2020, and to increase the number of work days under the MGNREGA scheme. It has also promised a separate farmers’ budget and reform of agriculture markets and a doubling of the budgetary allocation for health and education. Some bold ideas in the manifesto are the scrapping of the sedition law, amending of the much-misused AFSPA and scrapping of the criminal defamation law. It also seeks to reform and improve the GST system, withdraw the controversial Citizenship Bill and restore the original land acquisition bill. 

Some of the proposals reflect the Congress party’s known and established positions and others are responses to the excesses and failures of the Modi government. There is fresh thinking in many areas and in some cases rethinking of old positions. The manifesto is comprehensive and covers even issues like air pollution. The party has made a commitment to implement all of them. The manifesto comes across as ideologically opposed to the BJP’s vision and calls for strengthening citizens’ freedoms and civil liberties. It seeks to present a positive, social democratic agenda to the nation and change the narrative of the election campaign. The challenge for the party now is to convey it to the voters effectively, convincingly and in time for polling.  

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Cong manifesto shifts narrative

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