Are the Political Parties true to their Manifestoes ?

SK Singh *

The biggest democratic exercise with 90 crore voters that includes 1.5 crore first time voters, is already half way through for electing 543 Law Makers for the 17th Parliamentary election. The stakes are high, the stability of the would-be government in particular, given the kind of volatile political scenario across the country.

Diminishing hold of the BJP in the assembly elections in some mainland states like MP, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh in particular, in the recent past, the avowed combination of principal regional parties against BJP in the north, the south, the so-called 'Mahasangathan' and the lingering grouse of some section of people of the NER against BJP for their outburst for the CAB in the event of their forming government are, for sure, likely to cause concern in the War Room of the ruling party.

Nevertheless, the popularity of Modi not only across the length and breadth of his own country but also in most of the countries in the past 4 and half years, particularly after several years of high decibel international engagements, a hallmark of Modi, is strong factor in favor of the ruling party.

Ever since he became PM, Modi reportedly made over 48 foreign trips to 55 countries incurring a cost of a whooping Rs2, 000 crore plus. This amount is near equivalent to the plan size of Manipur for a total of 20 Annual Plans. Cost apart, there are no two opinions that Modi has greatly transformed the image of India to the foreign countries. India would have a new government, come mid-May when the 17th Parliamentary election would be over.

Political parties have already set up their Tactical Headquarters, the War Rooms with comprehensive high decibel promises, the usual, Manifestoes. Carefully drafted and redrafted with issues that would tempt the voters the 'Sankalp Patra' are out. Amusingly these are all high stake pledges, hardly ever delivered, and the general charge of 'over-promise and under delivery' holds true. In the digital age, political wars cannot be bereft of poll buzz, the digital game.

A number of 'Smart Firms', are making quick bug for their indispensable role for running the party's digital campaigns, have captured the video content that is being tweeted, re-tweeted and shared online. These videos aimed at user engagement, simplify political content for the viewers to see on the go.

The TOI in an editorial recently commented, "Poll manifestoes are typically lightweight documents in India and the BJP manifesto released yesterday doesn't deviate from that model. It echoes BJP's election campaign through its focus on PM Narendra Modi and national security and relative silence on unemployment and farm distress."

Recall how the BJP trumpeted its 'maximum governance, minimum government' oriented administration and talked about addressing the chronic woes of the farmer community. It also boasted about creating job opportunities against the backdrop of 5 crore jobs.

The Congress Party is not far behind; as is the practice, its preamble declares, with a side kick at the BJP, "Our manifesto process reflects a commitment to a higher vision, that of listening to the 'Jan Awaaj'. It is not the 'mannki baat' of one individual but the collective voice of lakh of people".

Keeping the traditional rhetoric intact, it also boasts of self-complement, 'congress promises, congress delivers'. The ground reality is however, all these 70 years of independent India, more often than not, having been the stories of 'over promise and under delivery'.

Recall the fresh promise of the BJP for redressing farm distress by doubling farmers' income with a strategy of extending the PM-Kisan scheme to all farmers. On the top of that they are toying with the lure of buying votes of those below the poverty line by offering pensions to all small and marginal farmers. Where the need is more of technological support to the rural areas for increasing productivity, promise for addressing the same by such inputs like pensions or extension of PM-Kisan scheme or waiving loans of certain categories of farmers with specified size of land holding etc may, according to economists, end up pushing fiscal deficit.

Tarun Khana, Harvard Business School Professor and Mittal Institute Director, felt, "….Our multiple crises in agriculture are partly due to inadequate investment in science and technology". They do not talk about this loan waiver or that pension scheme for the farmer community, factors that won't address farm distress. The benefits would emerge from inside the system not mechanical ways of measures bordering with redistributing poverty. These slogans appear therefore largely to attract cheap votes.

Amartya Sen in a recent piece 'India Needs Change', in the TOI put on record, "In sharp contrast with its electoral promise, it (NDA) made it much harder for poorer people to find jobs, generating huge levels of unemployment (India under NDA moved to the highest level of joblessness in nearly half a century).

The NDA tried to generate wealth and prosperity through delegitimizing parts of the established currency and reneging on the promise of promissory notes. The result has not matched any foretold vanquishing of black money (far from it); the result has caused significant setbacks in the business of small traders and entrepreneurs, including in agriculture."

Fortunately the BJP had invented a charismatic speaker, a powerful orator who could successfully manage to strike a chord, a direct relationship with the masses in the person of Narendra Modi. The BJP as a political party may or may not hold such a strong connection with people, but Narendra Modi does.

There appears to be a discernible wave for Modi not necessarily confined to the rural masses, the poor, the insignificants, but largely relevant to the cities and middle class as well. These massive classes would talk about Modi rather than the BJP or the NDA government. Modi is all that they know, appreciate; perhaps are enamored with the belief that Modi is strong, assertive, clean and can deliver.

He is heads and shoulders above the rest, that may include the former PM Dr. Man Mohan Singh, a two-term PM for that matter, even Atal Behari Vajpayee, the self-proclaimed PM aspirant Lal Krishna Advani, the former Dy. PM, you mention any. Perhaps Indira Gandhi during her second term was strong and popular to the extent of being equated to a near 'dictator' with immense hold on the council of ministers.

People talked about her authoritarian grip on her ministers—if in the midst of a cabinet meeting in the afternoon, if Indira Gandhi looking at the setting sun and named as the moon, some of her ministers would reciprocate echoing the same tune, 'yes, madam, it is indeed the moon'. The late President, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed was too attributed to have coined, 'India is Indira and Indira India'.

Even a sizeable chunk of the new first time voters estimated at 1.5 crore this time around, would be more attracted to Modi than Rahul or whom to mention, there is no easy name. It's immaterial if one is for or against Modi, but rest assured his personality looms large, far ahead of the rest. BJP may not be as successful as in 2014, but Modi would remain one singular personify to occupy the Lytton's Complex.

The BJP's 'Sankalap Patra' proposes 75 promises on this occasion of the 75th year of Independence. We may do justice by recalling two-three principal issues if their promises could be translated into real achievements. One is "To make India the third largest economy of the world by 2030. This implies that the country will become US $5 trillion economy by 2025 and US $10 trillion economy by 2032."

Amartya Sen did comment recently in his 'India Needs Change', "What can one say about the abysmal performance of NDA during its governing tenure of five years? The functioning of BJP led NDA has indeed been disastrous;….Rather than seeking the paranormal, India needs serious pursuit of economic policies that have born real fruits across the world. Our real needs include development of efficient and equitable public services, appropriate incentives…... skill formation for productive use, rather than invoking of some fairytale creations from an imagined past".

The BJP manifesto also talked about, "To establish one medical college or PG medical college in every district by 2024." Now, at the expense of repetition, one 'medical college' in each district, In India, let alone PG College, is a far cry, never to be accomplished. The position is not only for NER states, even for relatively much prosperous states in the country, a medical college in every district is just farce.

(TO be continued).

* SK Singh wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on May 01, 2019.

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