By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, April 3, 2019: Voters barely take manifestos seriously and rarely seek a holistic action plan from parties within a timeframe. But parties never fail to come up with promises in their manifestos, says Nageshwar Patnaik.

This week’s news will be dominated by the word “manifesto” – whose final “o” echoes the romance and grandeur of Italy, where it was borrowed from. As India gets ready for the battle of ballots, parties are in a hurry to release their manifestos, which play an important role vying to form the government at the state or at the national level.

Manifestos constitute and represent an important aspect of the democratic electoral politics as statements of a party’s ideology, response and policy. A manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions, often political in nature. Political parties should come out with manifestos as a communicative tool or content reflecting their political thoughts on the changing conditions which can affect the country’s domestic politics and international relations as well.

In India, unfortunately, people rarely take elections manifestos seriously. In fact, even political parties give it least importance to it. Voters also rarely seek a holistic action plan within a timeframe. Nonetheless, in every election, parties come up with plethora of promises in their election manifestos.

Elections are held periodically to empower citizens to elect a political party or a candidate of their choice for a term. Voters are supposed to cast their votes as per the party’s performance in the last term and the expectations for the future. Future expectations understandably are often rooted in the past performance of the candidate – whether in power or otherwise. Hence it is imperative to provide them with a framework to assess the earlier government’s performance.

Ironically, the majuscule section of voters does not bother to compare manifestos of different parties before casting their important vote. Take the example of 2014 general elections manifestos of the two large national parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC). Both the manifestos were general in nature and neither had details of the plan of action nor timeframe to fulfill promises made in the manifestos.

This clearly exposes lackadaisical approach of political parties as they only adhere to ad hocism in policy making and plan execution. Possibly, this is the root cause of slow pace of improvement in the quality of life of citizens, poverty alleviation, and infrastructure development- especially in comparison to many other developing countries that got their independence around the same time as India.

On Tuesday, the Congress – which ruled the country for more than five and half decades since independence, has released its manifesto promising some radical changes. The 55-page document titled, ‘Congress will deliver’, largely focuses on issues such as rural distress, unemployment, and the state of the economy, as well as provisions for social security.

Let us examine if the 2019 manifesto of the party is measurable and accountable.

First and the most important announcement in the party’s manifesto is Minimum Income Plan for the poorest people. Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s flagship plan to eliminate poverty, called the Nyuntam Aay Yojana or NYAY scheme, will give Rs. 72,000 a year to the poorest 20% of households. The money will be transferred to the woman in the household, as far as possible.

The party said that the scheme would be implemented in phases and the cost estimated to be Rs 3.6 lakh crore shall not exceed 2% of GDP. It also said that the scheme will be implemented as a “joint scheme” of the states and the Centre under the supervision of “economists, social scientists and statisticians”.

Will it too be yet another poll gimmick of the party as Garibi Hatao was once the slogan of the Congress during the rule of late Indira Gandhi? The task of eliminating hunger and malnutrition still remains as an unfinished agenda. The Global Poverty Clock puts India’s poverty at about 5.5% in 2018 and the Global Hunger Index (GHI) puts India at the 103rd rank out of 119 countries covered in the study for 2018.

Earlier Prime Minster Narendra Modi had announced Rs 6,000 per year per farm family (owning up to 2 hectares of land) under PM-KISAN, costing roughly Rs 75,000 crore in the budget. Both Modi and Rahul, in a way, acknowledge that small and marginal farmers as well as the bottom 20% of the population have not benefited from the current set of policies as they should have.

Both schemes are supposed to be add-ons to the existing subsidy schemes. Both schemes beg the questions of where the resources will come from and how the potential beneficiaries will be identified.

Similarly on the issue of the much needed job creation, Congress has pledged to make jobs its number one priority and said it will ensure 34 lakh jobs in the public sector by filling government vacancies, as well as rewarding businesses for job creation and employing more women, and requiring businesses with over 100 employees to implement an apprenticeship program. However, Congress has not specified what the rewards will be or if there would be penalties for not creating apprenticeships.

Job creation was a key promise during Modi’s election campaign in 2013. But the number of unemployed people has been rising steadily and had reached 1.1 crore by the end of December 2018, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

Congress president in a frontal attack on Modi over the issue of jobs, alleged that the latter’s policies destroyed one crore jobs last year and said “India’s PM is a joke”.

Voters in India are confronted with myriad issues and political parties will leave no stone unturned to woo voters with plenty of promises through manifestos. Perhaps it is time to promise the moon and later get off scot-free without fulfilling promises! Will 2019 polls will be different?

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