Why the Congress manifesto could be taken with a pinch of salt!
While promising to reach out to India's poor and farmers, Rahul Gandhi should also explain why past policies by his party failed to help exactly those segments.
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Flanked by mother Sonia Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh, Congress president Rahul Gandhi unveiled the Congress party’s manifesto for the 2019 General Elections, with a slew of promises and slogans that aim to assure voters promises made will translate into services delivered.
Congress leaders AK Antony, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh with the party manifesto. (Source: Pankaj Nagia/India Today)
Keeping in mind the fact that people are quite fed-up with politicians making big promises at election time, the Congress chief said, “When we started a year ago, I made it clear that nothing in this can be a lie because we live in a time where we hear a large number of lies every day.”
Significantly though, with a slew of promises made for the upliftment of the poor and the marginalised, the Congress has again fallen back on the trick that Indira Gandhi used to return to power post-Emergency — with her classic slogan of ‘garibi hatao’ — seeking votes in the name of poverty alleviation.
The NYAY scheme, which assures Rs 72,000 per year for India's poorest, featured as the most prominent theme of the manifesto.
Gandhi reportedly said: "The narrative is NYAY. It is if (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi can give Rs. 30,000 crore to Anil Ambani, then Congress can give Rs. 72,000 to the poorest. Modi has got a shock effect of this. He's hiding behind excuses. He can't hide behind the reality, which is joblessness."
The Congress in its manifesto has promised 50 more days of assured jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA). It has also promised 22 lakh government jobs by March 2020. The Congress has, however, not spelt out how these new jobs would be created.
Today, there are 22 Lakh job vacancies in Government. We will have these vacancies filled by 31st March, 2020. Devolution of funds from the Center to each State Govt for healthcare, education etc. will be linked to these vacant positions being filled.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 31, 2019
Rahul Gandhi claimed that the country was going through an ‘economic emergency’ — and that it needed a shock therapy. Gandhi said, “That will happen when we give directly to the poor and increase their buying power.”
Reaching out to farmers, the Congress promised that no farmer would have to go to jail in case of a loan default. Interestingly, the Congress has promised a separate budget for farmers on the lines of the erstwhile Railway Budget.
The Congress also promised to immediately withdraw the widely resented Citizenship Amendment Bill introduced by the BJP-led government against the wishes of many in the northeastern states. The party, in its manifesto, promised to ensure that no citizen of India is denied inclusion in the final National Register of Citizens (NRC).
In a significant promise with regard to the freedom of expression, the Congress has promised to make defamation a civil offence.
According to the party, it has held 121 public consultations and 53 closed door consultations to prepare the manifesto and that it reflects the hopes of the people.
Former finance minister P Chidambaram, who headed the manifesto committee, said, “Unemployment, farmer distress and security of women are top three issues. The theme of the manifesto is how to marry wealth and welfare.”
Of course, while the party’s manifesto claims, in central, to be concerned about poverty in India, the question on several minds is — why the party didn’t tackle the issue while it was in power?
Congress’ promise of a direct transfer of Rs 72,000 per year to the poor of the country is indeed a lucrative vote magnet though. The party says it has many economists backing the scheme — but so far, no one has explained clearly where the money to fund this scheme is going to come from.
I urge everyone, especially young people and 1st time voters- Please read our manifesto. Make this election about real issues. pic.twitter.com/Qv5NAhUidt— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) April 2, 2019
On the other hand, a separate farm budget is not going to solve the problems of the agricultural sector either. Parties have for far too long ignored the demands for cold storages, market integration and the availability of timely credit for farmers.
A separate budget is nothing but symbolism.
It would have been much better if the Congress leader had spoken about why his party was not able to help the poor in the past — and how the party will ensure the same mistakes aren’t repeated.
But then, poll manifestos are only offer documents — it is incumbent upon the voters to read the fine print carefully.