The BJP manifesto is full of glib promises
The one thing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) clearly did not see coming was the Congress party’s political manifesto.
Compiled from crowd sourced ideas through widespread national consultation, the Congress manifesto successfully and artfully seized the narrative from the massive propaganda machine that is the BJP. The Congress disrupted the trend of manifestos supposedly having less and less relevance and demonstrated what a well-prepared document was capable of.
The Congress manifesto has had such a significant impact firstly, because the BJP campaign is defined by religious polarisation and a brazen attempt to appropriate the achievements of the armed forces. The Congress arrested this toxic narrative with a clear focus on economic, social and policy priorities.
The overarching theme was the economy and jobs with the Nyay (Minimum Income Guarantee Scheme) anchoring the document. This was in stark contrast to the BJP’s negative campaign. Almost every day since, the discourse routinely reverts to the ideas contained in the Congress document. At the ground level, Nyay remains the idea/policy to beat.
Sections on removal of regulatory hurdles for start ups, minimum income guarantee, farm loan assistance etc. resonated with the people who had been sickened by a constant bombardment of divisive ideas by the party in power and a lowered standard of political discourse.
Second, the Congress manifesto, by sheer contrast, exposed the bankruptcy of merit in and credentials of the BJP to continue to govern. The BJP’s hastily drafted Sankalp Patra revealed a government out of ideas, out of touch and, above all, out of time. Prime Minister Narendra Modi finds mention at least 26 times (and features exclusively and prominently on the cover), while the poor and the youth feature 14 and 19 times respectively. The BJP’s priorities have never been clearer.
A fantastically delusional commentary on the BJP’s five years in office, the party’s document comprises inconsistent and contradictory ideas, repeats verbatim old assurances without any explanation and is a stark reminder of the string of broken promises and arrogant missteps that have characterised the BJP government’s tenure.
Those inherently contradictory BJP promises include the one to reduce taxes and, at the same time, increase tax collections, without indicating how. The latter seems highly unlikely, given the significant shortfall in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) collections so far.
The BJP promise to increase exports sounds weird after five years of falling exports, with exports posting their lowest share as a percentage of GDP (over the last 14 years).
Then there are the repeat promises. The Clean Ganga issue, which found mention again, was premised on the hope that no one would remember an identical promise in the 2014 manifesto. The promises of Ayodhya and Article 370 are repeated for the eighth time, failing to explain why the latter was abandoned when the BJP formed a Government with PDP or why, qua the former, no action has been taken.
A total of 125 promises have remained unfulfilled from the BJP’s 2014 manifesto. It has chosen to remain conspicuously silent on demonetisation and botched GST measures, which were earlier hailed as shining examples of “Chanakyaniti”. The desperate focus on PM Modi, from cover to contents, shows that it is a manifesto for a cult rather than a political party.
How can we trust the BJP’s glib promises, in the future, to manage an ailing economy when it couldn’t manage, during its current term, a healthier one with windfall gains from unprecedentedly low oil prices? The BJP’s record on jobs and the economy is the worst of any government. Its 2014 campaign promise to provide 20 million jobs every year (100 million jobs in five years) has been haunting it ever since. Independent economists and think tanks like the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy revealed that at least 10 million people lost their jobs merely during 2018. The actual number is higher, as attested by the alarming rise of the unemployment rate to 6.1%, the highest since 1972-73 (NSSO figures). The government, unsurprisingly, sought to suppress the NSSO report. Two senior officials resigned in protest. Last week, the International Monetary Fund cautioned India as to the authenticity of its numbers.
The agrarian crisis has worsened considerably. In 2017-18, the agricultural growth rate stood at 2.1%. The average agricultural growth rate during this government’s tenure has been almost half of that achieved under the UPA government. Modest policy interventions such as soil cards and neem coated urea are over-hyped by the BJP’s talking heads with little idea of what they mean. Faced with protests over the lopsided nature of the PM Fasal Bima Yojana, the government has now agreed to make it voluntary. This is a confession that the scheme has failed miserably, with the only beneficiaries being private insurers. Therefore, when the BJP promises that it will double agricultural incomes yet again, it seems like a cruel joke by an unthinking monarch.
The ad hoc nature of the BJP manifesto suggests two things. One, for the past five years, governance clearly was never a priority; and two, that it really believes itself to be so unaccountable that it does not need to offer any explanation on the (broken) promises that led it to be elected in the first place.
The BJP calls its manifesto the Sankalp Patra, which translates into Pledge Document. They would do well to recall Israelmore Ayivor’s caveat: “If you can’t do it, don’t pledge to do it. Don’t be a liar; ... It’s better for you to have a ‘single sentence’ manifesto… which is fulfilled than to have 25 chapters/ theories about your visions that remain undone!”
For a party that has often confused propaganda with governance, this was an inevitability.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi is a third term member of parliament; Senior advocate, Supreme Court, national spokesperson, Congress and former chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee. Muhammad Khan is an advocate of the Supreme Court
The views expressed are personal