Every politician has a promising career but unfortunately most of them fail to keep those promises. There is something about politics and politicians that make them impervious to promises and the same could be said about manifestos of political parties.

Every election, every political party announces a manifesto, in other words, promises and then, till the next elections they promise a lot more to keep those promises. Like a necessary elephant in the room that needs to be addressed sooner or later, every political party in India has come up with a list of promises for the 2014 General Elections.

The one thing that could bind the politics of every country in the subcontinent is the notion that the more things change, the more they remain the same.


Women


The incumbent Congress party’s 2014 manifesto is a mash up of failed promises of 2004 and 2009. Like the last two elections, the Congress, this time around too, has promised to secure a 33 per cent reservation for women in the Parliament. The Women Reservation Bill has been in the pipeline for decades but falters every single time it’s presented, in spite of women being the heads of at least four important parties – Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool National Congress (TNC) and AIADMK.

 Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi, TNC leader Mamata Banerjee, BSP leader Mayawati, AIADMK leader J. Jayalalithaa
Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi, TNC leader Mamata Banerjee, BSP leader Mayawati, AIADMK leader J. Jayalalithaa

But it’s some of Congress’ allies, such as Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party - SP) and Lalu Yadav (Rashtriya Janata Dal - RJD) who never cease to oppose the Bill. Can one expect anything else from Mulayam Singh, who is fine with rapes as ‘larkon se galti ho jati hai’ (boys tend to make mistakes) and Lalu, who didn’t bat an eyelid before making his wife the Chief Minister in his absence, and yet thinks of the women’s reservation bill as a joint conspiracy between Congress and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) to suppress women in backward classes and Muslim communities.

 Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Yadav [L] and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav
Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Yadav [L] and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav

The Women Reservation Bill would always have been a tough proposition but Congress failed on the 2009-manifesto promise of revamping the colonial mindset laden Indian Administrative Services (IAS) and couldn’t really transform India into the knowledge society under the National Knowledge Commission.


Health Care


This time around the Congress offers to transform health care and employment by making them basic ‘Rights’, like the Right to Information and Right to Work.

The Right to Health would see the Congress enabling every district in India with mobile medical units and an increased spending on existing health policies. The party seems to have forgotten that the point isn’t to spend more or make new promises but like the PM noted in almost every single Independence Day speech in the last decade, to uphold the ones made, like fixing the lacuna in the present system.

 Indian Congress Party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi (L) with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Indian Congress Party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi (L) with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

It has also pledged a staggering 1 trillion USD across the next decade towards upgrading India’s power, transport and other development infrastructure – something that has gone from bad to worse in the decade it was in power. It’s anyone’s guess as to where the Congress intends to raise 1 trillion USD from; perhaps the total amount of all scams under the two UPA terms could come handy. It’s funny that the change in the taxation policy, such as the introduction of GST (Goods and Services Tax) has been pending for half a decade is now one of those first 100-days manifesto promise of the Congress.

And funnier still is the promise to ensure that the ‘risk of retrospective taxation is avoided’ when this ghastly tax was introduced by it when it amended the IT Act in the first place during the famous Vodafone matter.


Economy


Much to the chagrin of the Election Commission, the BJP released it’s manifesto on the first day of the general elections. There is a general perception amongst certain quarters that the manifesto reads more like a vision statement than a traditional manifesto, which could be an extension of the idea of Narendra Modi, the four-term Gujarat Chief Minister, as the BJP’s PM candidate.

The five years (1999-2004) that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was at the Centre saw India go from a 4 per cent (1997-98) growth rate to 8.3 per cent (2003-04) that plummeted to 5 per cent (2012-13) under the Congress-led UPA and therefore, the BJP manifesto focuses on reviving economic growth and governance more than anything.

 BJP
BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi (R) and Party President Rajnath Singh.

Like the Congress the BJP, too, has reaffirmed its commitment to the implementation of the 33 per cent reservation for women in assemblies and has promised to further its states-based, girl-child schemes. Although it doesn’t really focus on new plans for rural development, it’s plan to create 100-new cities enabled with latest technology and facilities is a prospect that might bridge the rural-urban disparity, as well as the unplanned expansion of urban spaces.

As far as infrastructure growth goes the vision of the Vajpayee government for better road connectivity like the Golden Quadrilateral, that connected New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, the BJP proposes to build a ‘Diamond quadrilateral project of high-speed rail network or bullet trains.

It also promises to create an AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) like institute in each state under health-care. One of India’s premier medical institutes, AIIMS in Delhi attracts patients from across the country, who have to wait for weeks on end for their turn and this might address some health care issues.

The BJP also plans to look towards Asian collaborations, such as SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) instead of the usual USA or Europe.

This is something that the present Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tried in his first term but couldn’t enjoy great success as observed in his former media adviser, Sanjaya Baru’s book The Accidental Prime Minister. BJP remains committed to the continue with nuclear power for India’s energy needs and even mentions the country’s ambitious thorium programme that might see fruition by 2017, something that no other party mentions. There were some doubts about BJP revising the country’s nuclear policy but Modi has ruled out any change to India’s no first-use of nukes policy.

It’s decision to oppose FDI in multi-brand retail seems like a step back considering that it was them who suggested this idea in the early 2000s but it is still open to foreign investment. Old promises such as exploring “all possibilities within the framework of the constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya” and reiterating its “stand to draft a Uniform Civil Code” find a mention in the BJP manifesto as well.


Corruption


There is a great focus on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the 2014 elections and much like the tune that got them attention, and also a shot at running the Delhi government in 2013, its 2014 manifesto speaks a lot about ending corruption.

The AAP has said that it will bring an end to corruption through its Jan Lokpal Bill, an independent body under whose provision all public officials such as the PM and Union Ministers could be investigated for corruption. It also promises free health-care and education for all but glosses over economy and foreign policy and mentions nothing specific on how it intends to curb ‘paid news’ under it’s Media Policy.

 Aam Aadmi Party leader, Arvind Kejriwal.
Aam Aadmi Party leader, Arvind Kejriwal.

For a party that benefitted greatly from the airtime it enjoyed on 24x7 news channels, the AAP and especially its flamboyant leader, Arvind Kejriwal came under a lot of criticism for threatening to jail media if he came to power.

Although at places such as the implementation of the One-Rank-One-Pension policy for the defense services Kejriwal shares views with the BJP. In all likelihood, the AAP will not be able to be in a position to successfully implement many of its manifesto promises; it is being viewed as a serious contender to cut the BJP’s vote.

The Modi-BJP juggernaut notwithstanding a chunk of the urban voter, especially the working professional and many amongst the 150 million strong first-time voters, view AAP’s anti-corruption platform, along with its decision to mainly fielding educated professionals as a breath of freshness. But, at the same time, the manner in which the party abandoned Delhi after 49-days in power has revealed it’s incapacity to stop dissenting and delivering on promises.

Besides the AAP, BJP and the Congress others like the Samajwadi Party and the Janta Dal (S) have created a buzz with certain electoral promises. While most aim for all-round inclusive growth, people like Mulayam Singh can’t let go of the sectarian mindset.

As someone who has benefitted from the mandir-masjid politics, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s 2014 manifesto promises to include a reservation for the poor amongst the upper caste.

In 1989, the reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) in all public enterprises was seen as a tool to uplift the historically backward classes but after decades it’s said that the upper crust in these groups seem to have benefitted more.

Although there was an opposition to this reservation, the passage of time saw Indians come around but rather than creating more educational institutes or hospitals that would allow such reservations to be reviewed, and even changed, more communities such as the landed Jatt Sikhs are being given a Backward Class status.

The Congress intends to take this a step further and has proposed 33 per cent for jobs in the private sector if voted into power. Former Prime Minister’s JD (S) has even promised a west-like dole in the form of an unemployment allowance for the youth.

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