Tamil Nadu must challenge politicians by analysing their manifestos

Saranya Chakrapani
Saranya ChakrapaniMay 11, 2016 | 17:09

Tamil Nadu must challenge politicians by analysing their manifestos

It's only in the last ten years that manifestos have started getting innovative in Tamil Nadu. Even in this period, maximum reliance of parties had been on the easy route of freebies.

This election, however, irrespective of how far this could impress voters, parties seem have taken their manifestos seriously, looking beyond the onslaught of freebies. This is particularly because small timers such as Naam Tamilar Katchi and Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), first triggered the need by putting special effort into their respective manifestos, says political analyst Badri Seshadri.


And although it is well understood that the likelihood of them winning is exceedingly slim, their innovative approach and out-of-the-box thinking could be putting tremendous pressure on other major parties, including this political examination's bigwigs, DMK and AIADMK.

The People's Welfare Front (PWF), which has allied with Vijaykanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), has gone on to talk more numbers in its manifesto than any of its counterparts this crucial pre-election season by exploring in depth the government's expenditure to come.

While almost every party has promised prohibition in one way or the other, the PWF has laid out a detailed action plan to compensate the nearly Rs 30,000 crore of liquor revenue that will cease to flow in with the implementation of prohibition, according to experts. How effective or not this plan will be in practise is, of course, debatable.

Pattali Makkal Katchi manifesto. (PTI)

"Everyone else has said that they will balance out the loss from prohibition by nationalising granite and sand mining, which I find dubious. Honestly, the sand economy may not even be that big. The PMK says they will get back four times the revenue they will lose through prohibition, through these two economies. How is that going to happen?" asks Seshadri.


On the other hand, while the Naam Tamilar Katchi has clearly listed out real problems that need solutions, their own solutions to them end up sounding almost eccentric. Take for instance, the claim to allow only organic farming or preventing the emergence of new private schools.

Leaving out these subjects, all manifestos have talked about more or less the same things, just applied different models. After prohibition, second in line for almost all parties is the implementation of Lokayukta. While reducing or eliminating corruption would come as a natural poll promise by parties, employing Lokayukta comes across as somewhat odd, considering the people in Tamil Nadu haven't asked for or even completely understood this model.

"When the Lokpal movement was taking place, it was largely seen as a national agenda and hardly anyone in Tamil Nadu paid heed to it. Strangely, we seem to mentally alienate anyone reaching out to us largely in Hindi to communicate," says Seshadri.

The BJP, in addition to harping on all the predictable promises made by the regional parties, is also making assurances with its signature Hindutva focus; protecting the cow, subsidies for Hindu pilgrimages and recovering temple lands that have been encroached upon.


This time, every party seems to have acknowledged that job creation is an urgent need. While they all talk about increasing the number of government jobs, how this can be financially supported is an aspect that hasn't been explored descriptively.

The PWF talks about expanding the number of days under NREGA from 100 to 150 and increasing the money paid per day from Rs150 to Rs 250. There is little explanation as to how they will get approvals for this from the central government.

The AIADMK has promised to pay off the educational loans of unemployed youth, but this inherently leaves room for dodges, as lack of employment as a condition, can be easily misused to avail this scheme.

Also, what closely follows the promise of prohibition is the alternative of government employment to the employees of the state-run Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC).

"Right now, these people are paid meagerly. And in a state where you are fighting for job creation and better salaries, if you absorb them into the government, you would have to pay them a minimum of Rs 18,000 per month. Where will all that money come from?" asks Seshadri.

Agriculture seems to have been put on high alert this time by most parties. The DMK has promised loan waiver for crops for small and micro farmers and increase in the minimum support price of paddy. The AIADMK has promised Rs 40,000 crore as loans to farmers through its period of administration. Both the DMK and the PMK have vied with each other to promise an increase in the minimum support price of sugarcane.

But experts say that in the last five years, it is Tamil Nadu's millet consumption that has gone up, influenced primarily by the health conscious supermarket-driven urban population. Why sugarcane when the focus should be on dal, the prices of which are shooting up due to shortage, they ask. They also add that most contending parties talk about organic farming, with no significant data to prove that it increases production.

"The claim, 'we will improve organic farming', is at odds with the promise, 'We will increase farmers' income'," says Seshadri.

Another area that has hugely come under criticism is the lofty power promises made by parties. Whether it is hundred units of free electricity - as promised by the AIADMK or monthly accounting, as promised by the DMK - if it's going to result in further loss for the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TNGEDCO) - which is already running at a debt of close to Rs 80,000 crore - it is unsustainable.

The trouble, like always, is that we are not asking the right questions. For instance, how they will dramatically resolve the water crisis, increase ground water levels and recover water bodies that have been taken over by unscrutinised elements?

"In Chennai, water supply is not uniform. What is the cost of supplying clean water to every household? Is it under the state government's budget or Chennai Corporation's? These are things we need to understand," says Seshadri.

With such glaring contradictions, what then is the fundamental role of flashy, enticing manifestos in actually securing votes for a party? Most people who constitute the larger, more significant vote bank cannot understand the complex issues that a manifesto touches.

For example, while job growth is a macro economic issue, for households with unemployed youth, suitable job creation is the immediate worry. When you have unemployed youth struggling to pay off educational loans - between the promises of loan pay offs and job creation - they will naturally seek the former. A farm labourer with no ownership will be least concerned about loan write-offs for farmlands.

In that sense of relevance, people who can really study the manifestos for their merit and analyse where they win or fail, are invariably the well-paid, educated middle and upper middle class.

But this is also the section that is the smaller, and to some extent, indifferent voter base. The population that counts is the one that is susceptible and with more to lose, and it has through decades been conditioned to make decisions on the face value of a poll promise, without understanding that the more attractive a claim, the more unfeasible it usually is.

A section that can make a significant difference to this is perhaps the college-going population, which has the education and perspective to understand logistics for what they are. They could raise the right questions - especially on social media - and take a stand that they need not free laptops or subsidies, but good education and well-paying jobs.

Last updated: May 11, 2016 | 17:09
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