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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

Lok Sabha elections 2019: Jobs, welfare, harmony top Congress’ poll promises

Rahul Gandhi has over the past few days made public key promises incorporated in the manifesto, a first by the party that has so far closely guarded the official documents till its release.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Apr 09, 2019 10:40 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress president Rahul Gandhi releasing the Congress party manifesto 2019 for upcoming Lok Sabha election at AICC, in New Delhi on  April 2.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi releasing the Congress party manifesto 2019 for upcoming Lok Sabha election at AICC, in New Delhi on April 2.(Ajay Aggarwal/HT PHOTO)
         

The Congress on Tuesday released its manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections, unveiling a series of welfare promises that included a separate agriculture budget, filling up of 3.4 million government job vacancies, and internal security reforms, apart from the party’s pitch to guarantee a minimum income to poor households.

Unveiling the 55-page document titled “Hum Nibhayenge (Congress will deliver)”, party president Rahul Gandhi said his party has offered “the only national alternative — a distinct alternative that is unwavering in its commitment to truth, freedom, dignity, self-respect and prosperity for our people.” He was responding to a question on how the Congress will counter the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) nationalism narrative.

The principal opposition party’s manifesto indicated that it will keep the focus on issues of employment, farm push, women empowerment and bolstering the economy in this summer’s general elections.

“It is an action plan for the future of India. Now, it needs your support and your vote,” Gandhi told reporters after releasing the manifesto at an event which was also attended by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh.

 

Gandhi has over the past few days made public key promises incorporated in the manifesto, a first by the party that has so far closely guarded the official documents till its release. On Tuesday, the Congress vowed to put farmers in the country on the path from “karz maafi” (loan waiver) to “karz mukti” (freedom from debt).

This will be done through remunerative prices, lower input costs, and assured access to institutional credit, the party said, adding no criminal proceedings will be allowed against farmers unable to pay the debts. “They will only be tried under civil laws,” Gandhi said.

The BJP, which has criticised the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (Nyay) minimum income guarantee scheme as “unimplementable” over the past week, described some of the internal security reforms in the manifesto — including the abolition of the sedition act and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act [AFSPA] — as a “charter to weaken India”.

Under Nyay, the Congress has promised to give Rs 72,000 per year to the poorest 20% households in India.

The manifesto has been divided into “Kaam” — employment and growth, “Daam” — economy that works for all, “Shaan” — pride in India’s hard and soft power, “Sushasan” — good governance, “Swabhimaan” — self-esteem for the deprived, and “Samman” — life of dignity for all.

The Congress promised to allocate 6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to education, and 3% of the GDP to universal health care, which is aimed at strengthening government hospitals and improving its access to the poor.

It promised to enact the Right to Healthcare Act and guarantee every citizen free diagnostics, out-patient care, free medicines and hospitalisation, through a network of public hospitals and enlisted private hospitals.

Gandhi said the Congress will halve unemployment in India in five years and expand the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) to ensure 150 days of work a year to rural households, up from 100 days.

The party pledged to scrap the sedition law and amend AFSPA. It insisted that the sedition law has been “misused and, in any event, become redundant”. The Opposition party has repeatedly hit out at the BJP, accusing it of suppressing dissent by using the law.

It assured to amend the AFSPA in order to strike a balance between the powers of security forces and the human rights of citizens, and to remove immunity for enforced disappearance, sexual violence, and torture.

The announcements on the sedition law and AFSPA drew sharp criticism from the ruling BJP, with Union minister Arun Jaitley alleging that the Opposition party wanted to establish the rule of terrorists and insurgents in the country.

Criticising the Congress’s document, Jaitley said: “This manifesto has ideas which will divide India. Some of the ideas are positively dangerous in the Congress manifesto. They are for an agenda for the Balkanisation of India.”

The 19-member manifesto committee included P Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh, Rajeev Gowda, Kumari Selja, Sam Pitroda and Shashi Tharoor. The panel has held 172 consultations with different sections for the manifesto, which the party said was “crowd-sourced”.

The manifesto said a Congress government will investigate several agreements entered into by the Narendra Modi-led government in the last five years, in particular the Rafale fighter jet deal. It will also probe the circumstances under which “scamsters” were allowed to leave the country.

Gandhi alleged that the BJP government had spread hate and divisiveness in its five year rule and the Congress will work towards uniting India by bringing people together.

The manifesto promised that police and district administrations throughout the country will be held accountable for proven negligence in the case of riots, mob violence and hate crimes.

Jaitley told a news conference that the document released by the Congress indicated some costs of the basic income programme will be borne by the states and the rest will be generated by rationalising some subsidy schemes.

In its outreach for the youth, the Congress promised to make jobs its top priority, saying it will ensure 3.4 million jobs in the public sector by filling all 400,000 central government vacancies before March 2020, persuade the state governments to fill 2 million vacancies and create an estimated 1 million new Seva Mitra positions in every gram panchayat and urban local body.

On the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the Congress said it will radically simplify the GST regime with a single moderate rate of tax, zero rating of exports, and exemption for essential goods and services. It also promised panchayats and municipalities a share of GST revenues.

The Congress said it will reverse the trend of declining defence spending under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, and increase it to meet the requirement of the armed forces.

“We will expedite all modernisation programmes of the armed forces in a transparent manner. We will improve social security, education and health facilities for our paramilitary forces and families,” the manifesto said.

The Congress vowed to pass in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha the Women’s Reservation Bill, reserving 33% of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies.

First Published: Apr 03, 2019 00:05 IST

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