Other than mega political rallies and neighbourhood meetings, election manifestos are key instruments through which political parties reach out to their target audience ahead of elections.
Traditionally, political parties in India come up with one-size-fits-all manifestos: a top-down approach, which is similar to the way administrators also frame and implement public policies. In the process, local-level micro issues — bus stops, footpaths or drains — are glossed over.
But now in a refreshingly new move, the latest entrant in the crowded political arena, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), has decided to bring out separate manifestos for each of Delhi’s 70 assembly segments. Each of these documents is different in tone as are the issues they raise.
So while the manifesto in one constituency focuses on the water crisis in government colonies, another talks of poor roads outside Lutyens’ zone and inflated power bills, and in yet another, the spotlight is on poor colony parks and the absence of public urinals.
In other words, the AAP is customising the agenda for its different constituents. And since there are parts of Delhi that are not urbanised, the focus in those areas will be on agricultural issues like setting up shops for fertiliser and seeds.
The manifestos will be distributed among the people with a request for feedback and residents will have the right to monitor the progress of work as well as question MLAs for deficiencies.
For a very long time, there have been discussions in India on a bottom-up approach towards planning for better results. In reality, though, most government agencies are not keen to do that because they fear the loss of their discretionary power over sanctioning development work.
So despite demands and protests, local problems are unsolved for years and new ones are added, frustrating those who have to bear the consequences. But whether the party’s strategy will work in the long term or in very diverse constituencies remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it is a worthy experiment.