The much-awaited Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto for the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections is virtually a reconstruction of what chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has been busy projecting as his government’s achievements over the past five years.
Although BJP's top leadership has been critical of political freebies, the party's national president Amit Shah did not shy away from doling out Akhilesh’s old wine in new bottle - when he released the party manifesto at a high-profile show at the Indira Gandhi Pratishthan on January 28.
The only significant novelty in the sops offered by Shah was the promise of a farm loan waiver that could eventually turn into a game-changer for the party.
Ironically, that too appeared to be a leaf taken out of the Congress manifesto from 2009, when a similar loan waiver by Rahul Gandhi turned the tide for an otherwise dying UPA 1, which then rejuvenated to rule the country for another five years.
The BJP president, who always chooses to give precedence to the hardcore Hindutva element over the others in the party, failed to come out with anything concrete on the vexed issue of building the Ram temple at Ayodhya.
“We will adopt constitutional means to build the Ramjanmbhoomi temple at Ayodhya”, he declared, echoing what has been stated by former BJP presidents and other top leaders before every election.
Shah parried pointed queries on the subject, while adding that “even the ongoing court proceedings are a part of the constitutional process”.
|Most promises in BJP's manifesto were quite similar to what Akhilesh was already doing in Uttar Pradesh.|
Apparently, Shah realises the limited vote potential of the Ayodhya temple issue. That is why he preferred to be more assertive on obliquely playing the communal card on another issue: promising a ban on slaughterhouses across Uttar Pradesh.
"Our government in UP will ban all mechanical slaughterhouses in the state," he said.
However, when a scribe sought to remind him how a similar promise made by the party in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections never saw the light of the day, Shah said, “we are talking of Uttar Pradesh now”.
That BJP was once again milking its tried and tested tactics of communal polarisation became visible in Shah’s raking up issues like “continued exodus” of Hindus from a Muslim-dominated Kairana town in the communally-sensitive Western UP.
When another scribe sought to point out how the “exodus” was blown out of proportion, Shah said, “If you were to personally visit Kairana you will see for yourself that such exodus was going on even now and we will do everything to stop this.”
Significantly, even Hukum Singh, the BJP leader from Kairana, who was the first to make an issue of the "exodus" in 2015, eventually backtracked after media reports exposed the fallacy behind the allegation.
Shah’s obvious game-plan to revert to its beaten track will be amply demonstrated when the saffron-clad Gorakhpur MP, Yogi Adityanath, carries out his task as one of BJP’s star campaigners from the same belt of Western UP, where the Muzaffarnagar riots left 66 dead and more than 50,000 homeless, only a few months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Significantly, he was given a prominent place on the dais during the manifesto release.
When his attention was drawn to the fact that most of the objectives in the manifesto were similar to what Akhilesh had already planned for Uttar Pradesh, Shah added, “We have something more to offer beyond laptops; we are also giving one GB of free download,” as if this was a bigger deal than Akhilesh’s offer of free laptops to all students passing Class 12.
The other major promises made by the BJP manifesto too reminds one of Akhilesh’s much-touted “achievements” - such as the upgradation of the “Dial 100” helpline to ensure police assistance within 15 minutes of a distress call, free ambulance, a dedicated helpline in CM’s office, scholarships for the poor, free education for girls as well as insurance for farmers.
Much like the UP CM's vision document, the saffron party's manifesto promises a helpline for eve-teasing, 24-hour electricity supply to all households and medical colleges.
The promise of expanding the Metro service in Lucknow and Noida, besides launching Metro services in Kanpur, Agra, Allahabad and Ghaziabad were among the schemes undertaken by Akhilesh. Shah simply added Gorakhpur and Jhansi to his list in the lacklustre manifesto.
Strangely, Shah’s assurance to fill up the 1.5 lakh vacant positions in the state’s police department seemed like a cut-paste job - heavily borrowing from the SP government’s commitments.
Every time Shah was reminded that his manifesto titled “Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra” looked like a replica of Akhilesh’s list of “achievements”, he shot back saying, “we are not doing this for any particular caste or creed; this will benefit everyone”.
Little did he realise that the SP government too had doled out freebies across the board – cutting across caste and community. So what is the big deal, Amit Shah?