To highlight and counter BJP’s divisionary politics, the Congress on April 4 released their crowdfunded manifesto a week ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, with a focus on basic income and social justice.
“I do not want a single thing in this manifesto that is a lie, because we have been hearing large numbers of lies spoken by our prime minister,” party president Rahul Gandhi said at the unveiling on Wednesday, attended by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and senior leaders P Chidambaram and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
The poll promise document, despite being widely
With the promise “Congress Will Deliver” or “Hum Nibhayenge”, the manifesto has pledged to provide more jobs and a separate farmers’ budget, besides reviving the Women’s Reservation Bill. It also promises to scrap the opaque Electoral Bond scheme and the dubious NITI Aayog, replacing them with an open-source National Election Fund and a well-defined centralised Planning Commission.
The presence of several contradictory and oxymoronic promises, in this Congress manifesto, that seem to negate each other has invited further criticism.
Qrius examines the 55-page manifesto to see where Congress officially stands vis-a-vis key poll issues, and if the primary Opposition to BJP’s re-election bid is willing to walk the talk.
Congress has squarely addressed the sky-rocketing demand for employment with the promise to provide 35 lakh jobs in the public sector, filling all vacancies in a year.
“All of the 4 lakh vacancies as on 1 April 2019 in the Central Government, Central Public Sector Enterprises, Judiciary
Notably, Congress also promises to launch MGNREGA 3.0, which will increase the guaranteed days of employment up to 150 days in districts or blocks where 100 days are up.
The manifesto also promises creation of New Seva Mitra positions in every gram panchayat and urban local body to ensure effective delivery of government services to citizens. On a related note, the party added it will create a new Ministry of Industry, Services
The Minimum Income Support Programme (MISP) or Nyuntam
According to the manifesto, the “estimated cost will be <1% of GDP in Year 1 and <2% of GDP in Year 2 and thereafter”. A significant feature of NYAY will ensure the transfer of the money in the account of a woman from the beneficiary family.
However, the fine print explains little about where the money will come from, besides the information Congress already gave when announcing the scheme in March. The party says new revenues and rationalisation of expenditure will fund the scheme, assuring that it won’t suspend current subsidies and welfare schemes with “specific objectives”.
Electoral, legal, and tax reforms
The party will scrap the Electoral Bond Scheme that has come under fire for skewing campaign financing laws in favour of the ruling government. The manifesto promises setting up of a National Election Fund to which “any person may make a contribution”; it adds that 50% of EVMs will be matched against VVPATs.
One of the promises also deals with anti-corruption laws and promises investigation of BJP government’s deals in the last five years, especially the Rafale deal. Congress has also promised to
The Congress manifesto adds that the party will amend laws that allow detention without trial, as well as AFSPA; it further mentions a Prevention of Torture Act and comprehensive prison reforms.
Agriculture, tribal rights, and rural development
Besides reiterating its promise to waive all outstanding farm loans, the manifesto gives shape to the party’s plan to introduce a separate ‘Kisan Budget’ every year. Congress will strive to rid indebtedness or attain “Karz Mukti” for the country’s farmers, through remunerative prices, lower input costs, and access to institutional credit, the manifesto promises.
It lays down other pro-farmer measures, including the revision of BJP government’s failed Fasal Bima Yojana (Crop Insurance Scheme), more funds for teaching, R&D, agriculture-related pure sciences, and applied science and technology in the agricultural sector, and restoration of the original Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, and the Forest Rights Act.
In terms of rural development, the party promises to connect all villages and habitations with a population of 250 with a road under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and pass the Right to Homestead Act to “provide a homestead for every household that does not own a home or land”.
The Congress manifesto has called for the reservation of 33% of seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women, an attempt to enforce the Equal Remuneration Act (1976) effectively. The party
However, rights of disabled persons and the LGBTQ community are missing from the manifesto, a direct contrast to CPI(M)’s poll promise document; CPI(M) not only promises to legalise same-sex marriage and remove the lacunae in the current Transgender Persons Bill 2018, but it also assures introduction of a comprehensive anti-discriminatory bill covering the community.
Tax reforms, business and economic policies
When it comes to taxes, Congress will enact the Direct Taxes Code in the first year; it will review and replace the current GST laws with the GST 2.0 regime based on a single, moderate, standard rate of tax, and abolish the e-way bill.
The party has notably promised to reform tax administration, accusing the current government of giving the taxman “extraordinary discretionary powers that have throttled industry and called ‘tax terrorism’”.
Making the case for deregulation so that small-scale enterprises can operate in a low-interference environment, the Congress manifesto promises that MSMEs and start-ups won’t have to file any paperwork for their first three years, thus doing away with a lot of red tape.
It also promises to achieve the target of 3% of GDP by 2020-21, remaining under that limit, and a savings level of 40% of GDP and a Gross Capital Formation level of 35% of GDP; it says it will bring every Fortune 500 company to set up a business in India and withdraw Angel Tax.
The document further vows to increase the share of India’s manufacturing sector from the current level of 16% of GDP to 25% within five years and make India a manufacturing hub for the world.
Public infrastructure and urban policy
“Congress promises to
National security and foreign policy
The manifesto will ensure that defence spending is increased to meet requirements of the Armed Forces; development of suitable policies to address data security, cyber security, financial security, communication security, and enhancement of domestic capacity to manufacture defence and security equipment.
“Congress promises to establish a National Council on Foreign Policy; re-double the efforts to win permanent membership for India in the UNSC and the Nuclear Suppliers Group; significantly increase the size of the Foreign Service,” notes the document.
The general perception
Pre-poll manifestos during elections are of more academic than political interest in the world’s largest democracy. This and past record shows BJP’s lack of enthusiasm in the whole exercise, although the party will likely release its manifesto soon.
Meanwhile, though the Congress manifesto makes the right noise, history has shown that it is characteristic for political parties to ignore their poll promises once voted to power.
As Firstpost rightly states, this makes it hard to take the document seriously, especially when Rahul begins his speech saying, “I’ve never broken a promise that I’ve made.”
Should Congress turn a new leaf this time around and work towards the aforementioned targets, there is still no guarantee against dilution of these hefty promises.
Why it matters
Public institutions that are supposed to uphold democratic norms and ascertain welfare are so weak that mere promises without proper safeguards or plans of actions are futile. Plus, there is the question of key discrepancies and dichotomies in the Congress manifesto.
According to a Business Insider report, waiving off farmers’ loans will push the fiscal deficit (the difference between what a government earns and what it spends) beyond 4% of the GDP. At the same time, the party wants to get the fiscal deficit down to 3% of the GDP by 2020-21, if it comes to power.
The things that the party wants to do will cost money and mean extra expenditure for the government; the manifesto does not elucidate how Congress hopes to reconcile the ends with the means, especially when its economic vision rests on controlling expenditure and running a responsible fiscal policy.
There are seminal issues that have found no place in the manifesto, including mass surveillance, telecom regulation, preserving the sanctity of Indian universities and
That said, the manifesto has plans that, if implemented, could do wonders for growth and investment, and show how welfarism can be paid for by reform and deregulation.
By the virtue of these promises, the Congress manifesto offers a glimpse into the party’s political positioning and may still
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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