Tamil Nadu

Manifestos: a gateway to power or mere poll ritual?

They have been the subject of intense discussion as well as litigation

With election manifestos being launched by political parties one after the other, the limelight now turns to the salient features of such documents. At the same time, a question arises whether such manifestos make any meaningful difference in terms of strengthening the electoral process.

In Tamil Nadu, during the last 15 years at least, manifestos were not only the subject of intense discussion among political players but also of litigation.

During the 2006 Assembly election, the DMK offered a host of freebies, including colour television sets for all ration cardholders, cooking gas stoves and connections, 20 kg rice at ₹2 per kg and a waiver of cooperative loans of farmers. The then Union Minister, P. Chidambaram, even described the DMK’s manifesto as the ‘hero’ of the polls. No wonder the DMK captured power.

Five years later, it was the turn of the AIADMK to make a volley of attractive promises, such as 20 kg free rice to all ration card holders, regardless of economic status, besides wet grinders, mixies and electric fans. Needless to say, the AIADMK returned to power.

The manifestos of the parties came under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court in the light of a petition seeking to declare such promises ultra vires the Constitutional mandates. In July 2013, the court, despite holding that the distribution of freebies “shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree”, asked the Election Commission to frame guidelines for the content of manifestos, in consultation with political parties.

V.S. Sampath, former Chief Election Commissioner, recalls that many political parties had vigorously argued that it was their “right and duty” towards voters to make offers and promises in their manifestos. Eventually, the commission asked the parties to ensure that their manifestos reflected the rationale for the promises made and indicated broadly the ways and means to meet the financial requirements.

‘No binding relationship’

At the same time, there is another view that people do not take the manifestos seriously. Dalit Ezhilmalai, former Union Minister, says that barring one or two instances, the manifestos did not impact electoral behaviour in the State. The primary reason is that there is “no binding relationship” among the parties, their manifestos and the voters, post-elections.

Even former Finance Minister C. Ponnaiyan, regarded as the main contributor to the AIADMK’s manifesto for the 2019 election, acknowledges that the document has a bearing only on a small segment of voters, especially in urban areas. “Yet, we can’t afford to ignore this section. This is why the manifestos become useful,” he explains, adding that his party’s manifesto seeks to provide much more than just giving ₹1,500 a month to every BPL (below poverty line) family.

R.S. Bharathi, DMK’s organising secretary and a member of the manifesto drafting committee, dismisses the view that it has become a ritual for parties to come out with manifestos.

“You cannot forget the vital role played by my party’s manifestos during the 1967 and 2006 Assembly elections,” he says.

S. Peter Alphonse, Congress leader, says a close perusal of the DMK’s manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls would reveal that the party is seeking to project itself as “a partner in an arrangement” that may emerge after the polls, and it is “quite aggressive” in pushing the case of the State on a host of issues.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 11:20:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/manifestos-a-gateway-to-power-or-mere-poll-ritual/article26596583.ece

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