As political parties prepare their election manifestos and promises, a group of civil society leaders and concerned citizens on Tuesday released a document, Reclaiming the Republic, which they hope will shape the political agenda in the run up to the Lok Sabha poll.
The comprehensive list includes judicial and electoral reforms, repeal of laws which threaten personal liberties, enactment of a Media Freedom Bill, higher crop prices and loan waivers for farmers, universal pensions, expansion of the rural jobs scheme, and the rehaul of the public education and health systems among others. The group does not support universal basic income or cash transfer schemes.
The group has invited political parties to discuss the document on Friday. The Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal, and Nationalist Congress Party have so far agreed to participate.
“We see the forthcoming Lok Sabha election as an opportunity to retrieve and, indeed, reclaim from manipulation and subversion, our legacy of the Republic. The situation today calls for urgent reforms in law, policies and institutions,” said the group, which is chaired by former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court A.P. Shah.
Other members include Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Jayati Ghosh, activist and former bureaucrat Harsh Mander, Public Health Foundation of India president K. Srinath Reddy and former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
Charging the ruling NDA government with undermining the Constitution – “a liberal manifesto unlike any other” – and stifling dissent, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court A.P. Shah said that the group’s suggestions were aimed at protecting constitutional safeguards, and starting the conversation on the practical policies needed to fulfil the promise of India’s foundational document.
“In election season, public discourse is often reduced to mudslinging and seat share calculations,” said Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav. “At a time when the very foundation of our democracy are threatened, we want a discussion of actual issues and policies,” he said. Experts in 11 sub-committees drafted the group’s tasks, some of which come with detailed timelines for implementation, an approximation of costs involved and suggestions to raise resources. The section on employment, food, and social security, for example, would involve expenditure amounting to about 5% of GDP. Dr. Patnaik estimated that implementing all the proposals in the document might cost 10% of GDP. He pointed out that India’s tax revenue to GDP ratio was only 16% and could be increased.
“These proposed policies and programmes are neither optional, nor unaffordable for an economy of our size…Additional costs involved can be mobilised with the help of small turnover tax, wealth tax and inheritance tax, besides doing away with many irrational corporate subsidies,” said the group’s statement.