A manifesto is generally defined as ‘a published declaration of the intentions, motives or views of an individual, group, political party or government whosoever issues it’. (Election Commission of India (ECI) 2013) Manifestos are employed by ideological movements to explain in detail ‘the rationale behind, the goals of, and the prognosticated path of, the movement.’ (Eg: Manifesto of the Communist Party by Marx and Engels). The Oxford dictionary defines manifesto as ‘a public declaration of the policy and aims of a group such as political party’. Election manifestos are of different genre with different set of purposes. ‘The election manifesto normally contains the declared ideology of the political party concerned in general and its policies and programmes for the Country/State and people at large. It therefore serves as a reference document or benchmark for the public at large for what a political party stands for’ (ECI, 2013). During the period of first general elections (1952) and few post-1952 elections in India, it was not seen as the regular practice of all the political parties to bring out publication of manifestos. Only major political parties used to issue election manifestos on the eve of elections making public their ideologies, policies and programmes. But in recent years, not only national but also several State/regional parties come forward regularly to issue election eve manifestos. But it is sad to note that election manifestos have long stopped being serious documents of political parties containing studied policies and tangible promises for the rapid development and progress of the nation in all sectors.
Though political parties have a clear diversity of ideology and interest factors everywhere and in India, in the matter of drafting election manifestos, no emphatic ideological expressions are usually made in the manifestos of Indian political parties. With negligible exceptions in the scene, ‘political expediency’ plays a major role not only in designing election manifestos but also in the pot-election scenario. The parties are even willing to undergo ‘uncomfortable veiling’ of their committed ideology and known stand for fear of losing votes of neutrals and non-subscribers of the ideologies of the particular party. The election manifestos are now seasonal literature ‘thrown on the voters’ by political parties in a feverish attempt to attract and hoodwink majority interests and also shake their psyche a little’ before each election. In an obvious attempt to meet the contextual demands and satisfy the general moods of election period, election manifestos of political parties now contain some vague “intents” or the “wish lists” of the parties concerned.
The ploy of political expediency is distinctly evident in the manifestos of the main contenders for power in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections- the ruling party as well as the main opposition. All major national parties maintain an alarming silence about some 68 bills that have now lapsed mainly due to their own indulgence in the 15th Lok Sabha, making it earn the inglorious record of ‘non- performance’. The dismal performance of the 15th Lok Sabha happened only due the cumulative commissions and omissions of political parties- both in the ruling camp and in the opposition group. They virtually stalled the House of the People for several days and weeks, through bizarre interruptions and literally prevented the House from transacting any meaningful legislative business. None of the parties seems too interested to promise resurrection of the rapidly failing institutions of constitutional importance and to uphold lofty values in Parliamentary democracy and consensus. No political party has any tangible plan or promise to carry out smooth functioning of the Parliament and for carrying out legislative functions therein.
It is common knowledge that education is considered as a vital enterprise for the development of the human resources needed to build up any country. Education is also the most important vehicle for the overall progress of the nation. It is more relevant to note that Education is expected to strengthen democracy by enabling the citizens to acquire and use appropriate tools needed to fully participate in the governance process. For a developing country like India, education will serve as the ‘most potent tool for social, economic and political transformation’ (Planning Commission of India, 2012). It is naturally expected that national concern and recognition of the importance on education should get reflected in the levels of national expenditure on education. Constant demands have been voiced - right from the Kothari Commission in the 1960s and several education commissions since then- demanding enhancement of the budgetary allocation to education to 6% of GDP.
Perhaps recognising the importance of education in a vast developing country like India, national expenditure on education has been increased from 0.64% of GDP in 1951-52 to 2.31% in 1970-71 and it reached the peak of 4.26% in 2000-01. However, there has been sliding down in 2004-05 to 3.49% of GDP. (Planning Commission of India, 2012) The current level of spending on education is just little over 3% of the GDP. Present and emerging contexts as a result of multifarious internal and external socio-economic factors including the landslide effects of globalisation and the keen competitive environment prevailing in all fronts, there is a definite need for India, Asia’s third largest economy, to step up expenditure on education again. Though political parties have come out with myriad kinds of colourful promises, only a few national political parties (BJP, CPM) has openly come out with an assurance of enhancing expenditure on education to 6% of the GDP. A regional party in the South (DMK) has promised to strive for public expenditure on education to be at 7% of GDP.
Moreover, manifestos of major political parties have not clearly spelt out their stand on many important bills related to education. The National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010, seeking to maintain academic quality and making it mandatory for every higher educational institution to be accredited by an independent accreditation agency; the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010, one of the most important education bills meant to regulate the entry and operation of foreign educational institutions in the country; the Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010, seeking to set up educational tribunals at the national and state levels for adjudicating disputes involving teachers, other employees and all stakeholders such as students, universities and statutory regulatory authorities of higher educational institutions - have been made pending since 2010 and have now lapsed. It is strange to note that the ruling group also has not cared to clarify whether they would strive to revive-by reintroduction-of the bills they piloted in the 15th Lok Sabha. The CPM has, in its manifesto, registered its opposition to FDI in higher education.
Without spelling out its stand on the fate of the Commissions proposed in the now lapsed bills, the Indian National Congress (INC) has promised to set up a “National Commission for Students”, a body ‘to protect and promote the interests of students.’ Further to the above, the INC has also a proposal for establishment of a “National Youth Commission”, to serve as a ‘professional and dedicated focal point for youth development in all aspects.’ The Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP), on its part, has also evaded specific reference to pending bills and commissions proposed therein but has promised a Higher Education Commission by restructuring the existing UGC, a grant distribution agency.
In the sphere of elementary education, the elation due to present record of higher percentage of enrolment is dampened as we find that the dropout rate has also come high (42.39%). It is to be remembered that children are not part of the Indian adult franchise scheme but they form 40% of the population in India. Save the Children, an organization that works in 120 countries globally and across 15 states in India for children's rights have come out with a charter for protecting the interests of children. The charter includes demand for ‘Increase the budget to 6 percent of GDP for elementary education so that the RTE norms are achieved in all schools by 2014; amending the Right to Education Act to ensure that it covers children under six and those in the 15-18 age group and putting in place a strong regulatory framework for private schools that is transparent and accountable to the citizens (read parents/public).’ The Right to Education Act, 2009 appears to have support from different political groups but their manifestos say nothing specific about ‘curing the fundamental infirmities it suffers from’ and strengthening the access, equity, retention and quality of primary and secondary education in the country.
On the growing commercialisation of education, steep sliding down of standards, improvement of infrastructure, skill developments to prepare youth to meet the global challenges and embarking on innovations in different sectors of education political parties have made vague promises like improvement, revisit, upgrade etc. It is encouraging to note that the BJP has promised to embark upon ‘needs assessment’ exercise for identifying the future needs across sectors, and use the findings ‘for developing appropriate courses for higher education, to ensure that the country has adequate manpower for every sector, both established and emerging, in the economy.’
A disgusting recent trend is that many national and state parties issue their manifestos in which they directly promise such items which in common parlance are termed as “Freebies” (ECI, 2013). “Freebie” is something given without charge. (Webster dictionary). The promises of ‘freebies’ are also made by political parties in the education sector also. Coming out strongly against such practices, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in its judgment dated 5th July 2013 in SLP(C) No. 21455 of 2008, ha observed (in para 77 of the judgment) that “although, the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of RP Act, the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people. It shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree.” Towards halting promises of ‘freebies’ in election manifestos, the Supreme Court has also directed the Election Commission of India to frame appropriate guidelines on election manifesto to be included as part of the Model Code of Conduct. But as of now, the political parties care the least in the matter of promising ‘freebies’ and their manifestos blatantly continue promises of ‘freebies’ in the education sector also.
Unless public expenditure on all sectors of education is increased considerably; adequate infrastructure and human resources are made available for strengthening different levels of the enterprise of education; policies and programmes are drawn up only in national interests shedding sectarian/partisan considerations; ceaseless efforts and innovations to improve quality of education at all levels are carried out; the lives and employability of our youth will be in great jeopardy and they may get frustrated by failures in competitive global environment. All political parties should bear these facts in mind and conduct themselves in a concerted manner in the interest of the future development of the youth and Nation during the post-election phases to come.