Many Festoons, same Agenda
Rather than educating people about what they should know before they cast their vote in 2014 elections, fearing Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s influence and his growth and development agenda, the political parties were mostly seen interested in highlighting his flaws and devising smear campaign against him. In the rhetoric and cacophony of blame games and hate-speeches by Congress and other party’s this election, what significantly got lost was the necessity to build an informed public opinion to help people select the right candidate for their constituency and their country. As a result of the generated political perspectives and loud hate-speeches by Congress and other parties in the name of pseudo-secularism, people again were/are being influenced to vote for parties and candidates based on their perspectives; and a manifesto has lost the relevance it otherwise has in helping people take an informed decision.
Comparison of manifestos: BJP, Congress and AAP
BJP-Modi underlined that there will be zero tolerance towards terrorism, extremism and crime. The manifesto says there should be a clear roadmap for dealing with national security issues.
Congress- Address the challenges of Left Wing Extremism. Ensure that police forces are equipped with modern weapons and technology. Development agenda to empower the people in LWE affected areas will continue.
AAP- Review laws like AFSPA; zero tolerance towards terrorism, Kashmir an integral part of India.
BJP- The party makes its opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail clear. However, it is open to FDI in other sectors if it creates employment.
Congress- FDI in multi-brand retail will bring better returns to farmers.
AAP- Opposed to FDI in retail.
BJP- Revive Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, restructure UGC into a Higher Education Commission, online vocational training, skill mapping.
Congress- Encourage quality education and sports infrastructure in India. Set-up National Sports Education University to nurture talent. Party will address issues relating to discrimination against students from the North East and J&K.
AAP- Equitable access to quality education to all, special provisions for girls, establish institutions like IITs and AIIMS.
BJP- Encourage technology transfer in defence manufacturing, independent strategic nuclear programme. Congress- Ensure a transparent process of procuring state-of-the-art equipment. Fresh involvements to upgrade domestic manufacturing capabilities. Ensure welfare of Ex-Servicemen by establishing a “National Commission for Ex-servicemen”.
AAP- Transparency in defence procurement, integrated approach to all three services, encourage indigenous production of weapons, one rank one pension, secure borders through better infrastructure.
BJP- Check price rise, create employment and encourage enterprenuership, check corruption, bring back black money, remove policy paralysis. Congress- 8% plus growth rate within three years. Zero aversion to foreign investment. “Direct Tax Code” and the “GST” Bills will increase aggregate revenue. Party's “Jobs Agenda” aims at creating 10 crore new jobs.
AAP – Emphasises on more jobs, controlling price rise and empowering the common people; bring back black money stashed abroad, and simplify taxation system.
“Modi wants to become the PM and he can do anything for it. He will divide the nation into pieces, make people fight against each other.” —Rahul Gandhi said at a rally in Kanker, Chhattisgarh on April 10
“If a person like Modi becomes Prime Minister, communal riots can take place in the country any day and the nation will be destroyed.” —BSP chief Mayawati said in Meerut on April 6
“…You switch on the TV. You switch on the radio. Only one person is heard. What development has happened in Gujarat? What heaven has descended on Gujarat? Look at what happened in 2002. A person who divides the country can’t rule.” —Bihar CM Nitish Kumar said at a rally in Nawada on April 2
“Modi has blood on his hands after riots where innocents were killed. He can dream of becoming PM. But India will not allow this nightmare.”
—Trinamool Congress spokesman Derek O' Brien in Kolkata said, on April 10
“These Lok Sabha elections have placed India on a crucial crossroad where the people of the country have to decide between two ideologies of communal divide-one represented by BJP and the other by Narendra Modi.” —J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said in Ahmedabad on April 9
“Modi is not fit for the post of prime minister because of his “divisive nature” and “lack of basic historical knowledge”.
–Sharad Pawar, NCP Chief in Hyderabad on March 24
K G Suresh
Politicians often treat manifesto more as a ritual which is generally not taken seriously by the voters. But times have changed. With increasing educational levels and enhanced voter awareness, the people are keen to understand the policies and programmes of the different political parties before they exercise their franchise. Beyond the rhetoric and cacophony of election campaigns, they wish to know the roadmap for the revival of the country’s economy, how the parties plan to deal with inflation, corruption, foreign relations, internal security, Centre-State ties et al.
Election manifesto has a special sanctity in a parliamentary democracy that makes the party accountable to the people. Five years down the line, people including the intelligentsia would be debating the performance of the Government based on the promises made and kept. That the people take manifestos seriously is evident from the fact that a sizeable section of the people in Utttar Pradesh, particularly youth, voted for the Samajwadi Party in the last Assembly elections on the basis of his promise for free laptops and unemployment allowance. In Chhattisgarh, the Chawalwale Baba or Chief Minister Raman Singh has been re-elected for a third consecutive term because of the promise of heavily subsidized food grains he promised in his manifesto.
Even the secularism vs communalism and economic development debates gain gravity when a written document is there, not on the basis of rhetoric of political leaders.
The BJP’s core agenda such as Ram Temple, Article 370, cow protection and Uniform Civil Code, some of which were conspicuous by their absence in some previous documents, find a reflection in the present manifesto released by the party top brass on the first day of the Lok Sabha polls 2014. Though their inclusion has come in for criticism from the secular-liberal critics, the fact remains that BJP lost much of its sheen due to the dilution of these very core issues that gave the party a distinct identity vis-à-vis Congress. Therefore, this balancing act between Hindutva and development is critical for its success.
Coming to the manifestos of the different political parties, all of them have attempted to address the burning issues of the day from their own perspective. Even the Congress has fighting corruption on its agenda, very well realizing the popular sentiment in this regard. The Congress has again announced a slew of populist measures on the lines of MNREGA and Food Subsidy, which wreaked havoc with the economy. The party also tries to woo the minorities with the controversial Communal Violence Bill, which has the potential to tear apart the country’s secular fabric by blaming the majority community alone for any violence. In contrast, the BJP manifesto comes with a vision to resolve the manifold issues confronting the nation in a holistic manner.
Apart from promising to set up a Price Stabilisation Fund and putting in place strict measures and special courts to stop hoarding an black marketing with a view to check the unbridled price rise, the BJP has unveiled a grand vision to revitalize the nation’s hitherto neglected agrarian sector through unbundling FCI operations into procurement, storage and distribution for greater efficiency, evolving a single National Agriculture Market and promoting and supporting area specific crops and vegetables linked to food habits of the people besides setting up of an agri rail network catering to needs of perishable farm products.
On the issue of minorities, which has been a topic of heated debate, the BJP has given assurances to the effect that minority educational system and institutions will be strengthened and modernised and national Madrasa modernisation programme would be initiated.
In a welcome move, the manifesto talks about setting up of a permanent inter-faith consultative mechanism and trust under religious leaders and the party's commitment to the preservation of the rich culture and heritage of the minority communities alongside their social and economic empowerment.
In an outright rejection of charges that the party is only pro-rich and pro-middle class, the party manifesto, in a separate section titled “Widen the platform” promises measures targeted at the poor and marginalized, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes, minorities and the neo-middle class. The party has promised to identify India’s 100 most-backward districts and bring them at par with others, training the urban poor and ensuring basic level of infrastructure, shelter, electricity, water and toilets to all.
It has introduced the idea of ‘rurban’ to bring urban amenities to rural areas while retaining the soul of villages and building 100 new cities. For women, it has promised a national campaign to save the girl child and educate her, industrial training centres for women, creation of an acid attack welfare fund, and an all-women mobile bank. While its Team India concept and plans to harmonise Centre-State relations are laudable, critics within are wondering whether the over emphasis on the federal characteristics would contribute to dilution of the idea of a strong Centre, so critical to preserving and sustaining the nation’s unity and integrity.
BJP has dealt with a plethora of issues in its manifesto and has virtually promised the moon. But the million dollar or rupee question is whether five years would be sufficient to fulfill these promises. The AAP manifesto projects Swaraj as the ultimate panacea for all ills pervading the society asserting it can bring an end to corruption, its pet agenda, and ensure accessible justice for the people. Under criticism for the controversial views of some of its leaders, the party has sought to clarify the doubts pertaining to its stand on Jammu and Kashmir, national defence etc. Irrespective of which party comes to power, it is only an active and enlightened citizenry that can make democracy work. The people will have to make it categorically clear to the political class that promises are meant to be kept and not broken. And if they violate the sanctity of a word given, in this case the manifesto, they would be punished through the ballots, unmindful of whether AAP’s idea of the Right to Recall materializes or not.
(The author is a senior journalist based in Delhi)
Manifesto- Does it matter? What did Delhi voters think before casting their vote?
Bhavna Anand, Media Professional (Age 34): “No, not exactly but AAP is my first choice as I can connect with them.”
Ajay Ved Bidhuri, Media Professional (Age: 24) “Yes, I have read the manifesto and I trust Modi ji will address the issues and will develop India.”
Kadamnath, Retd. School Teacher (Age: 80): “Yes, offcourse. It is a party’s roadmap to fight inflation, revive economy and tackle corruption.”
Sahil Ajaz, Tourism Professional (Age: 32): “No need to read as I’ve already decided to vote for Congress and not for BJP because Modi is against Muslims.”
Jahangir, Student (Age 20): “Sorry, I don’t know what exactly a manifesto is all about? I voted for BJP because I want a change in caste based politics, it has not done anything good for the country.”
Afreen Mistri, Businesswomen (Age: 35): “No, I voted for Congress as I see Rahul Gandhi as a youth icon.”
Why it is Modi vs the Rest?
Moving into the dusty lane of a village in Bihar and on second day, in other village in Poorvanchal of Uttar Pradesh, I noticed the wave but particles in this speedy wave were difficult to be identified. One thing which is sure and convincing enough in this election is that villages are admitting vigorously after a decade and everybody knows that villages decide the curriculum of Indian election. This wave can be viewed in terms of challenges and opportunities for BJP, not for other parties. Everything whether loss or gain is going to be judged only for BJP because it is the only party under the leadership of Naredra Modi has to gain or loss in this election.
If we go by sheer poll predictions of the opinion polls, they are agreeing on three broad points: 1. There is a strong anti-Congress wave and the grand old party may end up in all time low; 2. There is a strong wave in favour of Modi led BJP, and NDA is likely to arise as largest political combination; 3. Governance and leadership are turning out to be the biggest issues. Another important aspect that is coming out of the poll predictions is role reversal of the BJP and Congress, where on the basis of organisational structure and effective leadership is acquiring all India character andsurpassing Congress in rural-urban, men-women and caste divides. The larger voter turnout is creating ruckus among many political parties, and “VOTE FOR INDIA” appeal seems to be main reason for all parties adopting anti-Modi agenda.—Naveen Kumar