Going against the expectations of a promise to bring in caste-based reservation in private companies, the Congress manifesto signals a rightward shift in its ideology as it reaches out to “Modi vote banks” of business and middle classes.
In a radical shift, the manifesto released on Wednesday promises “only the absolutely necessary subsidies to the absolutely deserving.” The party proposes “user charges” for “assured quality” in public services. For instance, it mentions higher charges for uninterrupted power supply, which is in sharp contrast to the Aam Aadmi Party’s promise of free power and water during the Delhi Assembly election.
The manifesto proposes upgrading the Sarva Shikhsha Abhiyan to Shreshta Shiksha Abhiyan. The underlying assumption appears to be that having expanded the coverage of public services in the past 10 years, the Congress now wants to focus on their quality, for which it is not averse to charging users.
The importance of the big-budget “national flagship programmes” of UPA I and II has been reduced. The Congress says it wants to pass on a greater share of the cost of implementing these programmes to the State governments as they have the fiscal space to bear the expenditure. This, the manifesto says, will let the Union government allocate more resources for its exclusive responsibilities such as defence and railways.
For business and industry, the Congress manifesto promises to address the holy cows of “flexibilities” in the labour market and minimum tariff “protection” to domestic manufacturers against imports.
For instance, it promises special tax incentives to firms manufacturing IT hardware to take on imported “popular branded hardware” such as Apple and Samsung. To exporters, it promises waivers or rebates on all central and state taxes on exported products.
In keeping with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s vision of making India a manufacturing hub, the manifesto promises a revival of manufacturing. A jobs agenda for creating 10 crore new jobs is on the 100 days’ to-do list.
The manifesto promises to take the economy back to 8 per cent-plus growth rate within the next three years and the pace will be sustained for the next two decades. For this, the manifesto promises an increase in the investment rate to 38 per cent of the gross domestic product. For greater business-friendliness, it promises to lift India's “Ease of Doing Business” ranking from the current 134 to 75 within five years.
The manifesto addresses most of the issues the corporate sector has raised on the economic slowdown and “policy paralysis.” It promises to reduce the risk of unpredictable and retrospective taxation. Introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bills in Parliament figures on the 100-day agenda.
For the middle class, the manifesto promises action for controlling inflation and 100 per cent financial inclusion. “We will ensure that every citizen has a bank account within the next five years,” it says. The manifesto promises high-speed rail for million-plus population cities.