The final battleline between the Congress and the BJP was drawn on Monday with the saffron party releasing its manifesto, nine days after the ruling party did.
Though the Congress has cried foul, saying that the BJP has copied its manifesto, the rule of the game in such things is that the challenger, not the incumbent, is always on a better wicket.
This is because while the Congress had a report card of sorts to place before the voters, the BJP had to come up with fulsome promises. And that’s exactly what has happened: The Congress has done both a report card and a manifesto, whereas the BJP has just focused on promises.
Neither of the two manifestos is sparklingly new because much of what is in them has been articulated by the two parties’ leaders — Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi — in their public rallies.
Where the BJP scores over the Congress is on two things: Its long-term economic agenda and the fact that
it has gone to the micro-level of whatever it has promised.
Even though at first glance, its stand on the Ram temple, Uniform Civil Code and Article 370 of the Constitution, which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir, will be the main talking point in the days to come, the real deal is in its economic agenda and it is here that the party has been able to tie down the Congress and present a much more precise agenda: It has targeted the Congress for its ‘10 years of jobless growth’.
This is a clever move because 23 million voters are in the 18-19 age-group and employment would be their prime concern and the country has not been doing good on that front.
The unemployment rate for graduates aged 20-24 is this: Nearly 24% of females are unemployed and nearly 17% of males have no jobs.
It has also promised to contain inflation and pursue tax reforms, both of which have contributed to the Congress’ undoing in the last few months.
There is also the promise of tax rationalisation and improvement of delivery, but nothing much has been said of the UPA’s pet project — the UID.
If the BJP comes to power, it would be interesting to see what happens to the scheme that promised to bring social justice. On foreign direct investment, it has played safe, saying it will welcome foreign investment in all sectors that will create jobs, except in multi-brand retail.
When it comes to governance, Mr Modi’s pet theme, very cleverly it has put old wine in new bottles: Participatory democracy is not a new coinage but an old chestnut.
All that the Congress’ pet idea — panchayati raj system — was about was such a bottom-up approach.
Over the years, India has seen marked growth in regionalism and the BJP has cleverly cashed in on it, promising to give more power to the states.
While manifestos — like the Union budget — generate much enthusiasm in India, what would matter in the long run is whether the voters would have the resilience to hold those in power to account and match promises to actions, before they vote again.