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Manifestos: Of repeat promises and peddling the undeliverable

Taking a break from the shrill campaign and political name-calling, two of the three key political parties in Delhi - the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party - released their poll manifestos last week.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2013 00:00 IST
Shivani Singh

Taking a break from the shrill campaign and political name-calling, two of the three key political parties in Delhi - the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party - released their poll manifestos last week.

Continuing with its thrice-tested development model, the Congress promised double-decker flyovers, a 100% growth in the city’s GDP, a common economic zone for the National Capital Region and a unified command of governance for Delhi.

The debutant AAP floated some novel, some radical and some simply undeliverable ideas. Its anti-corruption disposition found resonance in the promise to introduce the Jan Lok Pal Bill within 15 days of coming to power. It promised devolution of power to people in local governance, improvement in public health and education, and making Delhi a more inclusive city. It also promised a 50% reduction in power tariff.

The BJP has apparently delayed its manifesto because it cannot decide on its key differentiators. The party has not come up with any path-breaking idea since the AAP stole its thunder by promising cheap electricity, something that the saffron party had been promising in its campaigns.

The AAP, however, gives no explanation on how it will bring down the power tariff that is determined by the prices of coal and gas. It did not even conduct any study to ascertain how much of the cost and profit can be slashed before setting an arbitrary price reduction target. Its promise of free supply of a minimum of 700 litres of water per day to every household in Delhi also rings hollow in the absence of even supply networks in the city’s unauthorised and illegal settlements. The AAP also promises to fill up all vacant posts in the government and end contractual jobs that involve 365 days of employment but does not address its fiscal consequences.

The promise of a quasi-armed citizen force for the security of citizens, particularly women, sounds empowering but remains suitably vague. The AAP also proposes to roll back the four-year undergraduate programme running in Delhi University because it was ‘undemocratically’ enforced, without considering the chaos and confusion such a move will create for thousands of students who have already gone through the difficult transition.

The Congress repeats many of the schemes and policies from its 2008 manifesto. To woo migrants, the party had promised 10 lakh houses for weaker sections. In the last five years, it could construct only 15,000 units. With no idea where to find land to construct more, it has scaled down the target to four lakh houses this time.

Governance has long been a victim of multiple authorities with no fewer than 100 urban bodies -- local agencies, boards and authorities -- serving Delhi. The Congress manifesto claims that its governments could have delivered far more in the last 15 years had they not been “shackled by the present governance structure characterised by multiplicity of authorities”. What it does not explain is why the issue of full statehood remained undecided despite the same party holding power at both Centre and Delhi.

The Congress repeats promises such as special training for cops and pushing police reforms to ensure the safety of citizens. Cleaning the river Yamuna and redeveloping the crumbling walled city, the biggest failure of the incumbent government, reappear as promises in its manifesto. Even some obvious governance issues -- givens such as the construction of toilets, teacher training, better coordination with police -- are packaged as promises.

Manifestos provide the electorate with a checklist to judge the performance of political parties. However, few cared to even browse through these papers in the past. It is a bright sign that the voters are increasingly using these documents to hold politicians accountable. All three parties in Delhi claim that they consulted the electorate while drafting their manifestos. If only they cared to be more practical, and honest, about their promises.