Promise or perish: On political parties and their manifestos

Parties need to offer more than welfare schemes in their manifesto 

April 09, 2024 12:30 am | Updated 11:53 am IST

Political parties offer voters a preview of their vision in manifestos ahead of an election. Personality-driven politics and rapid changes in communication modes have reduced the import of manifestos, but still they offer a structured documentation of a political party’s approach to governance and state policy. The Congress manifesto for 2024, titled Nyay Patra (Document for Justice), is a pitch for the party’s political revival in the face of the expansive ideological project of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress has offered 25 guarantees under categories such as justice for youth, women, farmers, workers and for equity. The focus, according to the party, is social justice, economy and the primacy of constitutional institutions, and a promise to “reverse the damage,” allegedly done by the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government. The most significant political promise is to remove the 50% cap on reservation for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (OBC) and conduct a nation-wide caste census. The Congress is wading into unfamiliar waters on this count, as it has for the longest time lived in denial of caste as a determinant of politics, even as the BJP has expanded its base by addressing it. A new law to ensure that “‘bail is the rule, jail is the exception’ in all criminal laws”, a review of all laws that interfere with the right to privacy and individual’s choice of food, dress or marriage, a self-regulation regime for the media and a law to preserve the freedom of the Internet have been promised.

An unconditional cash transfer of ₹1 lakh a year to every poor family under the Mahalakshmi scheme, legal right to the minimum support price (MSP), and the right to health with cashless insurance of up to ₹25 lakh under a universal health scheme are among the raft of welfare schemes that the Congress is offering to voters. Further, the party promises the right to apprenticeship with an annual stipend of ₹1 lakh, the abolition of application fees for government examination and government posts, one-time writing off of all educational loans including unpaid interest and a lot more. Whether all this adds up to a new vision that stands out in comparison with that of the BJP, and has credibility against the backdrop of the Congress’s own track record in governance are questions that remain. Welfare schemes have ceased to be differentiators between political parties as all of them offer a mix of these. The Congress should have shown more imagination than was evident in its manifesto.

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