With the general elections already in action, the nation is conspiring (through the exercise of its suffrage) and speculating who will emerge as the leader of the nation this time around. Amidst this exercise, the object that remains most impactful in steering the outcome is the manifesto that each party releases. The manifesto, at least in theory, is supposed to hold the philosophy of the party and all that they envision for the nation. With two national giant parties in the fray, let us take a moment to scrutinize their manifestos, so we may better grasp what we ought to expect.
Foremost, the Congress has earned a reputation for being the Grand Old Party of India, posing as a centre-left political entity. The Indian National Congress released its manifesto on April 3, 2019 for the Lok Sabha Elections, and it remains a symbol of the retained faith that said party has in Gandhian socialism and welfare. The biggest take away remains what Rahul Gandhi has called NYAY or the Nyuntam Aay Yojana, under which Rs. 72,000 will be transferred per annum to the poorest 20% of households of the country. Moreover, it will be credited to the account of the woman in the household, which is a novel addition to the already widespread rhetoric of the Universal Basic Income (UBI). This proposed scheme draws our attention to the whole notion of the UBI in general – the intention behind the payment is to provide enough to cover the basic cost of living and provide financial security. In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said a guaranteed income would abolish poverty. The pros include the fact that workers could afford to wait for a better job opportunity and not have to rush into the first offer of employment, no matter how ill-suited. Further, the role of the bureaucracy would be reduced, which is otherwise very rampant in conditional welfare schemes of cash transfer that require tiresome validation of the recipient’s qualification. However, the prime problem associated with it is that it may dis-incentivize people to take up jobs, and make work seem optional. This would, by extension, perpetuate a fall in the labor force participation rate. Further, the Congress has so far been unable to provide an explanation of how it will fund this rather grandiose scheme.
Next, we come to the issue that has been plaguing the Indian economy: farmers’ distress. The Congress has promised an exclusive status to the farmers by proposing to introduce a separate Kisan Budget every year. This seems progressive, given that the undivided budget can better facilitate addressing farmers’ issues, for they are far removed and far diverse than the annual budget does them justice. As for the arena of job creation, which remains a stock constituent of most manifestos, your average promise of job-creation in numbers seemingly impossible has been made by the Congress. The silver lining, however, is that the manifesto has announced rewards for businesses for job creation and employing more women, alongside the fact that firms with over a hundred employees will have to implement an apprenticeship program. What’s most striking perhaps is the bit about apprenticeship programs, for time and again economists have pointed to the lack of vocational and technical training for the Indian labor force – this seems to have been addressed, for most real-time-skill training happens while on the job. This initiative is also interesting in that we see a break from the traditional mistrust of the Congress of private enterprises, for the reward system does not exclude them.
Moving on to the much-abuzz AFSPA or the Armed Forces Special Provision Act that allows for pre-emptive detention of citizens and sanctions armed violence against them in supposed “disturbed” areas, the Congress has not promised any substantial alleviation to the woes this act is capable of causing. It merely states that it will review the Act. The so-offered reviewing of the act could only be a cover for a disinterest in radically altering the status quo, for all we know. Continuing on the note of violence in the nation, the Congress has promised to stamp out mob violence and lynching, and work hard on preventing atrocities against members of the ST, ST, minorities and women. This is again, in tune with the classically Congress-esque idea of upholding secularism, at least in theory. That is something, given that the other giant party, the BJP, refuses to even acknowledge the proven fact that communally-motivated lynching has increased manifold under its regime.
All in all, the Congress manifesto seems to cover a variety of issues, which could largely be put under the heading of socialist, welfarist and pacifist. However, a clearer expression of the actions in mind would have assisted the voter in making an informed choice.
The manifesto of the Bhartiya Janata Party, a Hindutva-driven party of centre-right leaning, has caused much uproar among academics due to its stress on hyper-nationalism and an unapologetic tone resembling a gloating harangue. Before we delve into why it has been called out so, we have to acknowledge that in at least one arena the BJP has hit bull’s eye viz. water management. The BJP manifesto has announced the setting up of a unified ministry of water, for focused policy action. Currently, seven to eight central ministries have varying roles when it comes to water, which has diluted policy action. Given the present scenario of falling water tables, widespread unsustainable usage and unpredictable monsoons, a policy focus is very welcome.
Now, getting to the meatier issues that the said manifesto addresses – the BJP seems to have given up on its stance of ache din, adopting in its lieu a promise of “national security”. The cardinal concern of the manifesto appears to be a staunch attempt to mainstream the people of the Northeast as well as Jammu and Kashmir. This evokes many counterarguments, along the lines that why try to mainstream a region that is not ready for it yet? It seems equivalent to refusing to accept that there is a problem, instead of acknowledging it and working on a solution. The Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir are indeed conflict-ridden in their own right and call for mediation, communication and rhythmic integration, not a forceful push into the decaying abyss that is the Indian polity of current times. To aggravate the situation further, it has promised to repeal the Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution that grant special rights and provisions to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This again is an act that J&K seems unready for. Although there is a huge populace that seconds a uniform civil code for the entire nation, it comprises of next to zero citizens from the state. How, then, is it wise to appease the conscience of people that have zero practical concerns with the area in question? If anything, such promises only accentuate the extant alienation citizens of J&K and the Northeast face with mainland Indians.
Moving on, the manifesto seems to be a spree of polarization, for it even goes on to promise the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. This is a highly crass proposition, especially for General Elections in a nation declared secular by the Constitution. To further add to this heavy pro-Hinduism bias, the BJP goes on to boast that it intends to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighboring nations who face prosecution. This promise, combined with the anticipation of a nationwide Registry of Citizens, is capable of spawning havoc in the nation and a deep mistrust and hatred between the multitudes of religious groups than inhabit India.
What’s more, the manifesto does not shy away from advertising Modi as a demagogue figure, for his name features a total of thirty-two times in the manifesto, while the word ‘BJP’ features twenty times! The manifesto also goes on to perform functions ill-fitting an election manifesto – it boasts unabashedly the incumbent government’s performance and “achievements” vis-à-vis national security, while also claiming that it is Modi’s supreme watch that has made India a success in fields like space and technology. This is a blatant staking of claim on the feats as completed by the Armed Forces and scientists. All this, and yet the manifesto makes no mention of the single event that Modi can unopposed claim credit for – demonetization. This makes it clear that the BJP too finds demonetization a devilish failure of a strenuous exercise.
In summary, we see that the BJP manifesto plays on the idea of national security and technological advancement, and makes naught efforts on the front of promising religious harmony. It is almost as though the BJP is screaming out its hard-line Hindutva stance, all while remaining eerily silent.