Words and deeds: on Congress manifesto

In its campaign, the Congress must discuss the road map for implementing its manifesto

April 04, 2019 12:02 am | Updated November 28, 2021 09:57 am IST

The Congress party in its manifesto pledges to follow a ‘wealth and welfare’ approach if voted back to power. In an attempt to appeal to the poor without scaring away the rich, it promises to create wealth through promotion of private enterprise and expand welfare for the vulnerable sections of society at an unprecedented scale. An ambitious minimum income guarantee scheme is to directly transfer ₹6,000 a month to the poorest 20% households. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, introduced by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2005, is to be expanded to ensure employment for 150 days instead of the 100 days now. The promised expansion of health care, education and housing has attracted a lot of public attention, but equally eye-catching is the manifesto’s approach to several other critical questions of public policy. While welfare schemes are an attempt by the Congress to reconstruct its lost public support on the basis of a renewed development agenda, the manifesto tries to address many current questions that impact Indian democracy. Defamation will only be a civil offence; provisions for charging people for sedition will be removed from the Indian Penal Code; and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act will be amended to address human rights concerns. The party promises to expand reservations to private educational institutions, an unfinished component of UPA-I’s agenda of OBC reservations in educational institutions. Congress leaders stress that this manifesto addresses the needs and aspirations of the marginalised sections of society.

Election manifestos are important for political discussions ahead of elections, and for understanding the direction different political parties propose for the country. However, it must be kept in mind that parties overpromise ahead of elections, and the Congress must explain why it must not face that scepticism. Its manifesto has scant details about how its ambitious schemes will be funded. It is true that the Congress did deliver on many of the promises it made in 2004, though not entirely and to the full extent. Nonetheless, the Congress will do well to address follow-up questions on its schemes and their implementation. The manifesto has triggered a national debate on several issues that are close to people’s lives, and that is a welcome development. It has also prompted a fresh round of debate on broader topics such as India’s development path, the potential and limits of welfare and questions of fiscal discipline and revenue extraction. The Bharatiya Janata Party should join this debate on the merit in the Congress’s promises rather than use this as yet another opportunity to question the patriotism of its opponents. Details are inadequate, but the direction envisioned in the manifesto is encouraging.

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