Election Manifestos of BJP & Congress: Populism Vs Pragmatism
| Vikas Khanna, Senior Journalist, Delhi-NCR - 08 Apr 2019

Election Manifestos of BJP & Congress: Populism Vs Pragmatism

By Vikas Khanna

How real are election manifestos? Do political parties adhere to these manifestos or these have merely been used to entice voters ahead of elections? It is high time political parties are held accountable for failing to implement what is promised to voters.

NEW DELHI, April 08, 2019: Come election season, Indian political parties vie to outdo each other by promising moon to the voters through their manifestos. The manifestos largely come in the shape of sops, which are mostly forgotten once the election process is over and the new elected government assumes office.

These manifestos die their natural death till the new election is called after the five-year tenure of the government ends or if it falls ahead of its tenure. By the time the next election is called, nobody talks about the last manifesto. Interestingly, even the voters are not bothered whether the ruling government stuck to the promises it made in the manifesto when it rode to power last time.

A manifesto is a statement of intent by political parties detailing their aims and policies if they came to power. But sadly, the pre-election manifestos have never been treated as bible that should be followed and abided by religiously. This is so because several promises included in the document are too practical to be carried out.

Of late, a new populist political culture is emerging which is fast catching up with people, not only in India but across the world. Populism seems to be the flavour of political parties tapping people’s frustration and anger against the incumbent government for ignoring their concerns and excluding them from the benefits of higher growth.

This model has proved to be so successful that it has become an important tool for political parties to woo the voters, particularly those belonging to the disadvantaged groups of the society who feel delineated because of the government policies and programmes which they think have resulted in concentration of wealth among a few only.

This is one of the main reasons why political parties resort to populism to win the support of voters who are often taken for granted. These manifestos are loaded with goodies offering free laptops for students, cycles, gold etc at state level and waiver of farmers loans or even bigger as depositing a large amount of money in voters’ accounts at the national level while downplaying the failings in their performance delivery. The political parties should also come out with proposals how they plan to implement their ideas without jeopardising the economy.

Last week, the Congress party made some grandiose announcements while releasing the manifesto for the forthcoming general elections. The one which stands out is the offer of Rs. 72,000 annually to the poorest 20 percent of the population.

Did the party calculate how much will it cost the exchequer and put budgetary pressure? And, mind you, it is not a one-time offer. Another such announcement is the proposed implementation of MGNREGA 3.0 with minimum days increased from 100 to 150. When not much work could be created in MGNREGA’s first avatar, how does the party propose to increase work in rural areas?

A study by the National Council of Applied Economic Research and the University of Maryland found in 2015 that only 24.4 percent of rural households participated in the rural employment scheme, while nearly 70 percent of the interested households could not participate due to lack of work.

Again another proposal of a new GST regime based on a single, moderate, standard rate of tax on all goods and services is not practical. In a country where there is a wide disparity of income among people, the single rate GST would, in fact, hurt the poor the most as costs of several essential items too will go up. 

There is no doubt that there should be further simplification of rates with fewer exemptions and simpler policies, but the idea of a single rate GST is flawed. Another audacious proposal is to fill all the four lakh central government and institutional vacancies before March 2020, which if implemented will balloon the already bloated non-planned expenditure. Any sharp increase in the government spending will result in widening of the fiscal deficit and affect the economic growth.

While the Congress president Rahul Gandhi tom-tommed the party’s election manifesto as the panacea for all the ills, he failed to enumerate how he planned to implement such utopian ideas.

Almost a week after Congress’ manifesto release, the BJP too came out with its own version today. It, however, desisted from announcing tall promises, but could not resist the temptation to offer some sops to farmers in view of the agrarian crisis and small traders who were hit by demonetisation and GST exercise.

While announcing yearly support of Rs. 6,000 to all farmers under Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme, the BJP reiterated its promise to double farmers’ income, which has been borrowed from the last manifesto in 2014. The 6,000 rupees yearly dole, though pales in contrast to the Congress offer of Rs. 72,000 annually to the poorest 20 percent of the population, seems doable.

The BJP decision to provide pension to small farmers and small shopkeepers after they attain 60 years of age is vague in a sense that it did not elaborate how much pension it plans to offer. At a time, when the government has stopped pension to government employees from 2004 onwards, this new offer is bound to raise heckles, and put pressure on the budget.

The BJP’s promise to increase the doctor-population ratio to one per 1,400 by 2022 is a tough task given that there is just one allopathic government doctor available for around 11,082 people across the country, which is more than 10 times the WHO recommended ratio of 1:1000.

On March 23, 2018, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare informed the Lok Sabha that a total of 30,455 seats in state-run institutions and 36,165 seats in private medical colleges in the country are available for MBBS admissions while about 2,930 seats in state-run institutes and 24,130 seats in private dental colleges in India are available in BDS programmes. According to government figures, there are altogether 93,680 seats available for both MBBS and BDS programmes together every year, so how can the government expect to increase the number of doctors?

It is high time the political parties come out with realistic manifestos offering solutions to the problems the country is facing rather than offering bribes to the voters ahead of elections. It should be incumbent upon the ruling party to come out with an action taken report at the end of its tenure so that the voters feel enlightened and not cheated to know how many of the promises have been honoured. Otherwise, the relevance of poll manifestos will be lost.

Thankfully, there is growing awareness among the young electorate who know the value of their votes. In an age of vibrant social media and increasing citizen activism, one hopes the political parties will no longer treat the manifestos as only an election ritual. With just a few months left for the election verdict, it remains to be seen if pragmatism or populism rules the day in India.

(The author is a senior journalist and columnist. He has worked with several newspapers, news agency and television news channel in his 30 years career. Presently, he is a guest faculty at Indian Institute of Mass Communication and also writes commentaries on national and international issues. The author can be contacted at khanna.vikas@gmail.com)

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(Onkareshwar Pandey is Editor in Chief & CEO of Indian Observer Post. He is a former Senior Group Editor- Rashtriya Sahara (Hindi & Urdu) and also former Editor - News, ANI. http://bit.ly/2mh7hih).


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