The Congress, grappling with its decade-old negative baggage, released its manifesto called ‘Your Voice, Our Pledge’ for Elections 2014 on Wednesday, sending out a three-pronged political message, one for each economic slab of society.
It addressed the middle class by announcing a 100-day agenda for economic growth, seeking to debunk the perception that the United Progressive Alliance government’s welfare agenda has been at the cost of pragmatic economics. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi stressed that “a partnership between the business sector and the poor” was an imperative for growth.
And even as the manifesto enlarged the rights-based architecture, it pioneered by adding right to health and to homestead, the latter for the landless, it promised a security net for the 70 crore population, which has emerged from poverty but not yet entered the middle class, “a new future for the hands that built the nation.”
If the manifesto reiterates a promise it made in 2004 that it could not implement — affirmative action for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the private sector — it speaks of finding a way to introduce education and job quota for the weaker sections “without in any way affecting” the existing caste-based reservation.
It also promises to establish special commissions for the SCs/STs and OBCs to identify communities within each group that have not benefited from reservation to ensure a special focus on them.
A six-minute film that preceded the release of the manifesto was a nod to the Aam Aadmi Party’s emergence, as it showed Mr. Gandhi traversing the country seeking the views of different interest groups, but the document made no reference to the party. Instead, it identified the Bharatiya Janata Party as its principal rival, asking: “Congress or BJP, Secular Liberal Nationalism vs. Narrow-minded Communalism, Inclusive Democracy vs. Divisive Authoritarianism.”
If the manifesto, party sources said, had Mr. Gandhi’s stamp, the function was marked by sporadic and lacklustre applause from dispirited leaders who had gathered at the Congress headquarters, with party president Sonia Gandhi receiving the loudest cheers