Reetinder Kaur Chowdhary (Reetinder is an intern in CPRG)
If ideological beliefs are what divides political parties, then false promises are what unites them all. Once every five years, political parties come alive with full gusto, throwing promises all around, hoping to hoodwink the people to vote for them and then very conveniently forget their vows once back in power. Political rallies and speeches are great ways to rouse the voters into action but election manifestos are a cleverer, subtler way to promise a better future.
A manifesto is defined as a public declaration of aims and intentions and it is often political in nature. The election manifesto of a political party outlines the strategic direction and legislative proposals the party would undertake should it win enough votes to form the government. The political party election manifesto is a significant tool for conveying the party’s strategies, beliefs and plans on governing the country. It aims to explain the party’s programmes to the general public and in the process, garner more votes.
Manifestos play a decisive role in the win of a political party. The Indian National Congress won the 2009 general elections riding on the back of its manifesto which included the implementation of the NREGA, the 123 Agreement and the Public Distribution System. However, the path-breaking National Rural Employment Generation Act (NREGA) which was enacted to provide 100 days of legally guaranteed employment to each rural household, has not functioned as well as it was supposed to. The grassroots implementation of the act has been poor and thus, the dream of employment for all remains out of reach for the rural population of India. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme to universalize education in India has also been a complete failure in rural India. Lack of infrastructure, a dearth of educationally qualified and competent teachers and corruption have contributed to the non-fulfilment of this scheme.
The Congress manifesto of 2009 promised to ensure a life of SECURITY, DIGNITY AND PROSPERITY for each and every citizen but the reality is far from this. Ironically, under the Congress’s reign, atrocities were committed against Dalits, lands snatched away from the tribals by the government in the name of development, resulting in their displacement and the living conditions of the poor did not improve. The government had also failed to bring out strong laws or strengthen the existing ones to empower females in society. Nothing of significance was done to put the brakes on the crimes committed against women.
Congress also failed to deliver on its promise to better the condition of the SCs and STs by providing education. The Ministry of Minority Affairs, created on May 2004, has done little to fulfil the claims made by Congress in their manifestos of 2004 and 2009.
Furthermore, a closer analysis of the party’s 2004, 2009 and 2014 manifestos reveal many repetitions, indicating that the party had failed to fulfil the promises it had so callously made to the public, once again strengthening the general belief that politicians do not mean well. The 2009 manifesto mentioned the “guarantee of health security for all” while the 2014 manifesto paraphrased the same thing as “The Congress will bring the Right to Health and ensure everybody has access to quality healthcare”.
Similarly, it promised to uplift the Dalit and Adivasi communities in all three of its manifestos but crimes against Dalits increased by 17 percent in 2013. The issue of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which the Congress claimed was a top priority in its 2014 manifesto, was also promised in 2004 and 2009. In 2014, it promised to connect “2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats with high-speed broadband connectivity” but it wouldn’t have needed to make this promise had it stuck to its 2009 manifesto’s promise of “connecting every village to a broadband network within the next three years”.
In 2004, the party promised to take immediate measures to shorten the time taken by court hearings. In 2009, it repeated the same thing, saying “The Indian National Congress has always been of the view that justice delayed is justice denied and will, therefore, pursue judicial reforms to ensure timely completion of the hearing and disposal of cases.” In 2014, it said a “strategy for disposing of long-pending cases will be developed.” Such blatant lies and ill-founded vows make a mockery of the institution of democracy and thus, the people who place political parties in a position of power and casts a shadow of doubt on the credibility of the country as well.
Fast forward to 2019 where the Indian National Congress has just come up with its election manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The 55-page document, an improvement over last time’s 27-page manifesto, highlighted the party’s vow to the general public to create jobs, alleviate farmer’s distress and giving Rs 72,000 per annum to 20 percent of India’s poorest families. Is this another offhand statement that the party has grown used to hurl at the common people considering the impact such a large-scale scheme will have on the prices and labour market?
What remains to be seen is whether the Congress’s proposed approach to key issues including national security, foreign policy, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the development of rural economy, will just remain the party’s proposals on paper like every other time or will they stick to their tagline this year, ‘Hum Nibhayenge’ (Congress Will Deliver)?.