Manifestos: cynical exercises

Manifestos: cynical exercises

BJP President Amit Shah, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Raman Singh and party leaders during the release of the party's manifesto for Chhattisgarh Assembly elections, in Raipur. PTI

Election manifestos are not taken seriously by voters in any election at any level. That is because they are packages of mostly false and unworkable promises; through many elections, voters have become wise and know how to judge them. The hundreds of elections held in the country have seen parties making all kinds of promises which were rarely fulfilled when they came to power. They have to make bigger and better promises with every election to make an impact. The Election Commission had once framed some guidelines on manifesto promises in the model code of conduct, but it was clear that these would not be followed. They were too vague to be followed, too. The promises made by parties for the elections being held in five states now also follow the familiar pattern. Whether they will be implemented or not is anybody’s guess, but they give an idea of the thinking of parties and how they approach elections. 

The manifestos of the BJP and Congress, which are the main parties in the fray, stand out for the unrealistic and populist promises they make and for their readiness to go to any length to appease the voters. The BJP has promised pensions for farmers and an unemployment allowance. The Congress has offered farm loan waivers and distribution of rice at Re 1 per kg. The two parties have competed with each other to make promises on the minimum support prices for crops, social security for different sections, GST rebates and many other matters. Neither party will be able to make good the promises if they come to power. If they try, the states will be reduced to paupers. But parties cannot be held accountable for the promises that they make. 

The most cynical promises were made by the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. The party, which claims to be secular, has promised to start commercial production of cow urine, build a gaushala in every panchayat, establish camps to treat injured bovines and perform their last rites. The party has offered to develop a pilgrimage route centred on the life of Lord Ram. These are promises one would expect of the BJP and show how desperately India’s Grand Old Party is trying to compete with the saffron party. It had adopted soft Hindutva positions in Gujarat and Karnataka also. Unfortunately, the party does not seem to realise that it cannot fight the BJP on its ground and on its terms and win the battle. If its profession of secularism is sincere, its positions should reflect that. A dissembling and hypocritical stance will erode its credibility and call into question all its claims and promises on other issues, too. 

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