The Indian Parliamentary elections for the 17th Lok Sabha are scheduled to be held from 11 April to 19 May 2019. The main stakeholders are the Congress and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) while all other small national and regional parties are either rallying behind them or seeking mandate independently. The Congress has released their Manifesto on 2 April 2019 with its proposed action plan under five chief categories of Kaam (work), Daam (money), Shaan (glory), Sushashan (good governance) and Samman (honour) in 54 pages. It has a total of 53 milestones under the broad heads of Employment and Growth, Hard and Soft Power, Good Governance through Independent and Accountable Institutions, Self Esteem for the Deprived and A Life of Dignity for All.
To their Manifesto released on 7 April 2019, the BJP has given the nomenclature of "Sankalpa Patra" which comprises of 43 pages. The party rallies around the central themes of Rashtravad (Nationalism) as inspiration, Antyodyay (the raising of downtrodden) as philosophy and Sushasan (Good Governance) as mantra. It has a total of 75 milestones under 12 broad categories namely Nation First, Agriculture and Farmer Welfare - Doubling Farmers Income, India as the World's 3rd Largest Economy, Infrastructure - Foundation of New India, Healthy India - Determined India, Good Governance, Yuva Bharat - Tomorrow's India, Education for All, Women Empowerment, Inclusive Development, Cultural Heritage and Foreign Policy.
As a continuing government, the BJP has committed to further build on the foundations laid out in the last five years in terms of re- establishing macro-economic stability, building long-term frameworks of governance, raising India's international stature, introducing a no-nonsense approach to internal/external security, upgrading the stock of physical/social infrastructure and, most importantly, building a basic safety net for the deprived section of the Indian society. The party holds that they have already demonstrated what all can be achieved by a committed and decisive leadership willing to take hard decisions. On their part, the Congress holds that their past record speaks for the party which delivered prosperity to people and they are committed to do it again. The Congress manifesto says that Mr Modi (present prime minister) has arbitrarily and single handedly devastated the Indian economy, social fabric and foreign policy, and the outcome of the ensuing election will enable the party to reverse the trend and bring the country again on the path of the progress and prosperity.
A detached and dispassionate look at the manifestoes of both the parties reveals that the Congress has criticized and condemned the BJP, and more particularly incumbent prime minister, on almost every page while making their own wishful promises without laying specific milestones and targets in most cases. On the other hand, the BJP manifesto has avoided almost any reference of the Congress except at some points a comparison with the previous governments post-1991 in the context of outlays, outcomes and achievements. They have instead relied on highlighting achievements of the past five years, desire to continue and strengthen the schemes launched earlier and promises for new schemes with specific targets and supposed outcomes in majority cases. For illustration, the Congress manifesto starts with the party president's following remarks:
"...Past five years have been disastrous for the people of India. Youth have lost jobs. Farmers have lost hope. Traders have lost business. MSMEs have lost their confidence. Women have lost their sense of security. Deprived communities have lost their traditional rights. Institutions have lost independence...Harshest blow is that our citizens have lost their faith in the words of PM and the government... ...Congress will built a modern India by prosperity and productivity..."
Rather than giving in space for bestowing expletives on their rival, the BJP has mostly laid out their vision and mission against various milestones. For instance, the party has come out with the following ideals on the path of "Gram Swaraj" (Village empowerment) as envisioned in Gandhian philosophy:
“Saashray (Housing) - we will ensure pucca house to every family…by 2022; Sujal (Drinking Water) – we will launch ‘Jal Jivan Mission’… to ensure piped water connection to every household by 2024; Suchna se Sashaktikaran (Digital connectivity through Bharatnet) – we will ensure that every Gram Panchayat is connected through high speed optical fibre by 2022; Sadak se Samriddhi (Road connectivity) – We will launch…to connect centres of education, healthcare centres and markets with hinterlands…”; Swachhata se Sampannata (Swachh Bharat Mission) - we will ensure 100% disposal of liquid waste water and reuse of waste water.”
In the following paragraphs, the author proposes to briefly summarize the salient points of the manifestoes of the two national parties and bitter rivals with a brief analysis of own towards the end:
Nationalism and Internal Security
BJP insists on the nation first and talks of the approach of the zero-tolerance against the terrorism. Their manifesto boasts of the commitment towards the national security, welfare of soldiers, combating infiltration, coastal safety, implementing Citizenship Amendment Bill, combating left wing extremism and Pak-sponsored terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir. Taking a dig at the BJP, the Congress says that the national security is not ensured by chest-thumping or exaggerated claims. The Congress has committed increased spending on defence, use of modern technology, empowering the offices of the Chief of Defence Staff and National Security Advisor, and prioritize the public sector to expand the domestic capacity for indigenous manufacture of defence and security equipment. The BJP too has expressed strong commitment for speeding up purchase of modern equipment and weaponry for the Defence Services, work for self-reliance in defence sector and needs and modernization of the central police forces.
The two national parties have, however, major differences in their approach on certain issues of vital national interests and internal security.
- In the context of the northern state of Jammu & Kashmir, the BJP feels that the Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution are main bottlenecks in total integration and bringing it to the mainstream. Accordingly, they have expressed the commitment of annulling Article 35A of the Constitution of India which is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir as also the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits forced to abandon their homes by the separatists and extremists in the state. The Congress, however, is committed to retain Article 370 and 35A and will not allow any tinkering in the existing provisions.
- The BJP is strongly committed to bring the Citizen Amendment Bill to grant citizenship of India to the refugee Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians facing religious persecution in the region and are thus uprooted from their homeland. They are also committed to complete National Register of Citizens (NRC) containing names of all genuine Indian citizens residing in Assam with a view to identify illegal immigrants from the neighbouring countries which are a drain on the resources of the state. The Congress is committed to oppose the Citizen Amendment Bill and has strong reservations about the NRC.
- The BJP has shown its commitment to take effective steps against the left wing extremism (Naxalism) and eliminate this menace in the next five years. The Congress shows their general commitment to contain different kinds of threats to the internal security, a resolve to fight violent activities and simultaneously take peace initiatives to win over the Maoist cadres. This difference was also evident in 2018 when the Congress party stood for the Urban Naxals when the BJP government in Maharashtra proceeded against some naxals in connection with Bhima-Koregaon violence.
- The security doctrine of the BJP is driven by the national security interests only and the party is committed to give free hand to the security forces against the terrorism and extremism. The Congress has assured to minimize the presence of army in Jammu and Kashmir and review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). It has been a long demand of the two regional parties and separatists in the Kashmir Valley to remove army and AFSPA from Kashmir.
Farmers and Rural Development
Both the national parties have expressed deep commitment for the welfare and improving income of the farmers, rural development and development of the agro-allied sectors. They talk about certain common schemes like Fasal Bima Yojana (Crop Insurance Scheme), warehousing facilities, organic farming, National Bee-keeping and Honey Mission, augmentation of irrigation facilities, ptomotion of dairying and poultry farming, horticulture, pisciculture, sericulture, and so on.
The Congress has recently won elections for three state assemblies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh on the promise of farm loan waiver, and the party has now promised similar loan waiver for the farmers in other state too. In addition, the Congress has assured to come with a separate Kisan Budget (Farmer Budget) in order to ensure priority to issues affecting the agriculture sector. In the event of default on the loan repayment, the party has promised to make it a civil offence rather than criminal offence as it is in vogue now. The party is also committed to organize infrastructure and other facilities for the farmers' market and re-design the rural employment programme MGNREGA.
The BJP had embarked on a mission to double the income of farmers by 2022 and they are committed to make all efforts achieve the target by due date. The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana already launched to ensure financial support to farmers owning land up to 2 hectares shall continue. Similarly, the party has expressed resolve to encourage the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana already in vogue. The BJP has committed to Kisan Credit Card loans, a short-term new agriculture loan to farmers up to Rs one lakh interest free up to five years. The party has also planned a social security pension scheme for small and marginal farmers on attaining the age of 60 years. The party has repeated its resolve to improve the condition of farmers rather than offering doles and loan waivers in the country.
Social Schemes and Inclusive Development
Both the parties have committed a large number of schemes and programmes in the social sector for inclusive development. The BJP has already initiated and implemented a larger number of such schemes and programmes during the last five years. Besides many new commitments, their manifesto finds a reference of achievements and benefits accrued under these initiatives and in addition they have also assured greater efforts to improve the quality of service and delivery system to ensure that benefits reach to all affected citizens. On the other hand, the Congress manifesto takes a dig at many of these schemes and highlights Congress's commitment of inclusive development and the quality of life of citizens. The most significant commitments are their Minimum Income Support Programme or Nyuntam AAy Yojana (NYAY) and investments in education and health sectors.
The Congress President feels that the election narrative has been set by them through the NYAY as the same is invariably finding a reference in election rallies and all canvassing forums of the party. The NYAY is essentially a flagship scheme for 20% of the poorest families which have been assured direct transfer an amount of Rs 72,000 per annum in bank accounts. According to the party's estimates, approximately five crore families will be benefitted under the scheme which will lead to removal of abject poverty from India by 2030. The party has also estimated an annual requirement of about Rs 3,60,000 crore which, according to the experts of the national party, is feasible to accommodate within the constantly growing revenue of the Central Government.
Besides, the party plans to make education free up to the secondary level in public schools, increase the number and seats in lower and higher educational institutions in the country, and so on. The party talks about doubling allocation under Education to make it to 6% of the GDP by stipulated date. The party also has similar ambitious programme in the Health sector where the allocation will be doubled to make it to 3% of GDP by the stipulated dated for the healthcare. By all means, these are very ambitious programmes which are likely to exhaust a substantial part of the annual Budget (approximately 66%) of the current total annual budget of the Central Government if implemented in letter and spirit. Paradoxically, the party is also committed to transfer Education to the State list.
The BJP has committed to work for improving the quality of education and trainers in the country. For this, they plan to establish several National Institutes of Teachers' Training with integrated courses for trainers. While recognizing the yeoman service done by the Kendriya and Navodaya Vidyalays over a period of time, the party has resolved to open another 200 such schools by 2024 in the country. They also commit to augment number of seats by at least 50% besides creating world-class Technology, Science and Medical institutions to improve the quality and standard of the professional education. On the Healthcare, the party has already launched Ayushman Bharat Yojana in 2018 which boasts of being the world's largest healthcare programme with a target population of about fifty crore. Besides providing annual health cover of Rs 5 lakh to about 10.74 crore under-previleged families under the Ayushman Bharat, the party claims to have already created 17,150 and plans to set up a total of 1,50,000 Health and Wellness Centres by 2022.
Youth and Woman Empowerment
Almost half of the population (over 48%) is represented by women in India and both the national parties have committed heavily to influence them. The Congress claims that the party has always been on the forefront of the struggle of women's rights, gender justice, equality and importance, and so on, claiming that the only woman prime minister India ever had, was from the Congress. The BJP holds that "India needs not just women development, but women-led development that makes women the leading force of the development trajectory". Hence going beyond the tokenism, the party has resolved to take substantive measures for the holistic development of women and gender equality with their greater participation in society and economy.
The Congress has promised to amend the Constitution at the very onset of the ensuing Lok Sabha to provide for 33% reservation of women in the Parliament and state assemblies. They have also promised to amend service rules to pave way for 33% reservation of women in government jobs. The reservation is not a new concept, it has been used as a potent weapon by the Congress since independence to influence various target groups compelling other political parties too to follow suit. In addition, the party has made umpteen promises like enforcement of the Equal Remuneration act, working women's hostels, night shift for women, night shelters, separate public toilets, sanitary napkins vending machines, stoppage of sexual harassment of women at workplace, separate investigating agency, dignified and secured life for single, divorced, widowed and destitute women, and so on. However, the party has not revealed its roadmap including timeframe, funds etc to do these things.
On the other hand, the BJP has listed their pro-women programmes like Beti Bachao - Beti Padhao Programme, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Ujjwala Yojana, Awas Yojana, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, Saubhagya Sahaj Bijli Yojana, etc. launched during the last five years and benefits accrued to women. They have committed to further expand these schemes to ensure their greater reach and accrued benefits to women. Rather than making tall promises like the Congress party, the BJP talks about the empowerment of women through the schemes already implemented, creating more opportunities and facilities for the working women. For illustration, the party has committed 10% government procurement from MSMRs having at least 50% women employees in the workforce, increase remuneration of ASHA and Anganwadi workers and ensure coverage of healthcare and other social support systems at the grassroots level.
The BJP also favours 33% reservation of women in Parliament and state assemblies. The BJP has committed to bring legislation to eliminate discriminatory and evil social practices like Triple Talaq and Halala while the Congress has publicly expressed party's resolve to oppose any such legislation. In fact, the 16th Lok Sabha already passed the stated legislation twice but the Bill was stopped in the Rajya Sabha where the Congress and its friendly parties are in majority. The BJP has also committed to encourage and incentivize schemes and programmes for the greater engagement of the Indian youth with the society through voluntary association with schools, hospitals, lakes, public gardens etc. for their maintenance and cleanliness. Other schemes include de-addiction to harmful drugs and activities, internship programmes in local bodies, necessary skill development and education on social awareness, and promotion of sports and games.
The BJP had identified its vision and core philosophy of "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" during 2014 for inclusive development of all segments of the Indian society. With this philosophy as central theme, the BJP has highlighted party's commitment towards ensuring justice for all, sabka vikas (development of all), welfare of poor, responsiveness towards the needs of aspirational middle class, Geographical Equity, dignified development of minorities, elderly care, enabling Divyangs (Disable person), welfare of labourer class, pension scheme for small shopkeepers, welfare of children and artisans, and empowerment of transgender. The party has set a target of bringing down the percentage of families living below the poverty line to a single digit in the next five years including a provision of pucca house for all those living in kuchha houses or without housing by 2022. The inclusive development is a specific theme of BJP and the Congress has separately made assurances for some of the above categories, though the party seems to be enamoured with their doles and waiver agenda of Rs 72,000 per annum to the 20% poor families and loan waiver for the farmers in all states.
The Congress has identified infrastructure as basic weakness with flawed design, inefficient execution, insufficient capacity and poor maintenance over the years that has dragged India's growth rate down. The party has committed to remove these deficiencies by using all available models viz. public sector, private sector and public-private partnership. The Congress has promised to augment total length of the national highways and modernize all outdated railways infrastructure on the stated model. The have promised to review and reformulate policy on spectrum and exploration of natural resources, formulate policy on clean energy and green energy to enhance share of solar and wind energy as also availability of electricity in rural areas. In fact, there is nothing new or worth mentioning in their vision on infrastructure as they have not explained the need for reformulating policies and India already has a policy and roadmap for clean and green energy.
On the other hand, the BJP has drawn a clear vision and ambitious roadmap for future on Urban Development, Swachh Bharat Mission, Jal Shakti (Water), Road connectivity, Railways, New Airports, Coastal Development, Energy and Digital Connectivity. The party considers infrastructure as the backbone of any economy. Accordingly, the NDA government made massive investment in infrastructure during the last five years for railways, highways, village roads, health and educational infrastructure and the party has listed its achievements of the last five years. There has been an unprecedented rise in the port capacity and the speed of setting up new rail lines, gauge conversion, and electrification of railway tracks has doubled. Other significant success area are creation of global standards in infrastructure and civic amenities, generation of electricity and rural connectivity.
The BJP has committed to creation of a strong Metro network in 50 cities during the next five years. Under Swachh Bharat Mission, over nine crore toilets have been constructed in rural and urban areas during the last five years and the party has committed not only to make all habitations open defecation free but also to ensure that this status is sustained. The party has assured to launch "Jal Jiwan Mission" to ensure that piped water is available to every household by 2024. The party has also resolved to construct another 60,000 km of national highways during the next five years, improve the existing ones and spend Rs 10,000 crore for promoting clean energy and battery operated vehicles. The party has a clear and ambitious plan to modernize and augment railways in all segments. The party claims to have added 46 new functional airports since 2014 making it to 101 and that the number of functional airports shall be doubled in next five years. The BJP has also committed to round the clock electricity supply to all, coastal development and digital connectivity up to Gram Panchayat level through high speed optical fibre network by 2022.
While laying down their vision of economic policy, the Congress has started with a crib on the BJP government (instead of NDA) alleging that the latter has reversed the clock of reforms taken by their governments. Emphasizing the need for fiscal stability, the Congress has promised to bring down fiscal deficit to 3% (against NDA government's projected 3.4%) by 2020-21. The party says the monetary policy is domain of the Reserve Bank of India and the BJP interferes with its working; hence the Congress will ensure independence of the central bank.
The Congress will provide conducive policy climate for the sustained economic growth. The party will encourage private investment, spend money on creation and provision of public goods, encourage domestic consumption and exports and foreign direct investment with the exception of the national security. The party has also assured prudent distribution of investments in various sectors, review of laws, rules and regulations as also the foreign trade policy. According to the Congress, MSMEs were badly hit by the demonetization; hence the party will devise a rehabilitation plan for them.
The BJP foresees India to become the World's 3rd largest economy by 2030, US$ 5 trillion economy by 2025 and US$ 10 trillion economy by 2032. The chief driving economic factors for the world's fastest growing economy are Low tax and Investment driven growth, Goods and Service Tax, capital investment of Rs 100 lakh crore in infrastructure, Make In India campaign to make India a global manufacturing hub, increase contribution of the mining sector to 2.5% of GDP, special package for MSMEs, Entrepreneurship & Start Ups India, Using Tourism to Cluster Services, transparent economy and International Trade. High GDP annual growth rate of over 7%, consistently low inflation rate below 5% and low fiscal deficit in the NDA regime indeed offer ideal growth prospects for the Indian economy.
The policy of keeping low tax rate, improving compliance and broadening the tax base has paid dividend in terms of higher revenue collection. Goods and Service Tax (GST) has led to overall lowering of tax rates and increased revenue collection, particularly for States as also providing cushion to the Central for spending more on public welfare schemes. Compared to base year 2015-16, GST revenue for all states has increased by almost 50% in three years. The NDA government initiatives like Digital India, Start Up India and Skill India initiatives have strengthened Make in India programme. To encourage Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), the NDA government has facilitated a credit of Rs 19,000 crore so far and the party has committed to take this figure to Rs one lakh crore by 2024.
The Congress Manifesto glorifies past foreign policy driven by great and visionary leaders of freedom struggle (an obvious reference to JL Nehru Inc) and simultaneously condemns the current policy as flip-flop being driven by the whims of one man (PM Narendra Modi). They argue that it is transactional and against national interest, hence it shall be reversed. On one hand, the party reiterates its faith in the policy of friendship, peaceful coexistence and non-alignment , simultaneously it shows commitment for having close relations with neighbours and Group-20 nations. On terrorism, party shows its commitment to persuade other countries (not identified) to compel Pakistan to end support and sheltering terrorists groups. Foreign trade and economic cooperation will be important element of foreign policy and it will work with SAARC and ASEAN countries for enhanced trade, investment, tourism and cultural exchange. The Congress has also promised to set up the National Council on Foreign Policy, strengthen the Indian Foreign Service, good relations with Pakistan and Sri Lanka for the welfare of fishermen, and redouble efforts for permanent membership of Security Council and Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Unlike Congress, without taking a dig on the chief rival party or past leaders, the BJP reiterates its faith and commitment in "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" (entire world is our family), global coordination on knowledge and technology, continuous dialogue with Indians living abroad, combating terrorism through global forums, deeper multilateral cooperation, permanent membership of the Security Council and strengthening the diplomatic cadre and outreach. The party simultaneously claims that India is emerging as a power and connecting stakeholders in a multi-polar world. The rise of India is the new reality and the nation must play a major role in shaping global agenda in the 21st century.
To truly reflect the ancient Indian vision of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the BJP has expressed commitment to strengthen its role as "first responder" globally for the disaster relief and humanitarian assistance and for developing partnerships for the disaster resilient infrastructure. The party will launch "Bharat Gaurav" campaign to increase interaction among the Indian diaspora and enable their continuous engagement with the Indian missions as also a "MADAD" portal for information and services of the Indians living abroad. Apart from the ingrained spirit of the "Neighbourhood First" and "Act East" policies, the party has shown its commitment to effectively pursue co-operation against global evils, such as terrorism and corruption, through forums like United Nations, G-20 Nations, BRICS, SCO, Commonwealth, etc. The common goals with the Congress are pursuing the permanent membership of the Security Council and strengthening of the diplomatic and allied cadres to keep pace with increasing global engagement and enhanced stature of India in the world.
A close examination of the manifestoes of both the national parties reveal some convergence but mostly a sharp contrast between the vision and mission of the two mainstream parties. If the BJP has advantage of running governance of the country for the last five years, the Congress too has a legacy of over fifty-five years of direct rule and another about six years of proxy rule or the governments of similar ideology including social and economic philosophy. Yet ironically, while the BJP has focused its agenda around "Sabka Saath - Sabka Vikas" through empowerment of people with promise to make more investments for robust infrastructure, industry and business, agriculture and other allied sectors, the Congress has mainly focused on offering attractive doles and waivers to people for the sake of poverty allevation while simultaneously promising huge investment in sectors directly affecting the common man though without identifying specific plans, schemes and outlays.
The BJP has highlighted a plethora of welfare schemes and programmes launched during the last five years, investment made and benefit accrued to the common man. The party has promised to continue these schemes and simultaneously identified other areas of focus and new welfare schemes for holistic development setting targets and milestones to take the country in the league of fairly developed nations making India as 3rd largest economy in the world by the end of next decade. On their part, the Congress has taken a dig on almost every scheme and initiative of their rival party, charged them for reversing the liberal social and economic policies started by them and arresting the growth of the economic development. Consequently, the party plans to review policies, make new policies and programmes with an assurance to remove poverty from the country by 2030.
On certain issues of vital national interests, the two parties have diagonally opposite stand and commitment. While the BJP has committed to empower and give more teeth to the Indian security forces to deal with infiltration and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and naxalism in various parts of the country, the Congress assures minimum presence of Army in Jammu & Kashmir and review the AFSPA to make it less stringent, a demand constantly raised by the two regional parties and separatists in the state. The BJP is committed to review Article 370 and repeal Article 35A implemented through a Presidential Act in May 1954 (normally valid for only 6 months) in this state while the Congress is vehemently opposed to any such move. Conversely, the Congress is committed to repeal the existing Sedition Law under Section 124A of Indian Penal Code enforceable against anti-national activities with a view to encourage more freedom of expression and speech, while the BJP considers this law essential to deal with the internal enemies of the nation.
The BJP is strongly committed to pass the Citizen Amendment Bill for granting citizenship of India to the refugee Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians facing religious persecution in the region and have taken shelter in India. The Congress is strongly opposed to this Bill and holds that it is discriminatory by excluding Muslims while the BJP argues that Muslims do not face such persecution and there are already a number of Islamic countries including Pakistan and Bangladesh in the same region to take care of them. The BJP is also committed to complete National Register of Citizens (NRC) as directed by the Supreme Court containing names of all genuine Indian citizens residing in Assam with a view to identify illegal immigrants from the neighbouring countries, mainly Bangla Desh. The Congress has many reservations on the issue out of the fear of antagonizing their voter base as a majority of illegal immigrants are Muslims.
Foreign policy is another area where the Congress is very critical of the BJP policy and more particularly Prime Minister Modi. India's first Prime Minister Nehru had propounded a policy of non-alignment while simultaneously maintaining a strong bond with the communist-socialist countries, especially Russia and China. The bitter truth from the past is that the non-alignment movement completely failed to achieve its objectives and fizzled out while Russia proved to be a non-committal and doubtful ally barring exception of the 1971 India-Pakistan War. When China attacked India in 1962, the Russia remained a silent spectator with loyalties divided between a friend (India) and brother (China) while the US and UK immediately responded to Nehru's call with moral and material support. During the last five years, India under the NDA regime has attained major progress on diplomatic front earning dependable friends globally, better relations with the US, Western Bloc and Russia, and global acceptance and support. Recently in February 2019, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (57 member states) invited and honoured India despite strong objection and boycott of Pakistan. However, the Congress manifesto says that the current foreign policy is transactional and against the national interest; therefore, the party is committed to revert back the (Nehruvian era) policy of non-alignment.
On social and economic front, the two parties have many differences and it is simply beyond the scope of handling such issues under the limitations of this article. Hence the author proposes to only deal with the major narratives of the two national parties and the flagship programme NYAY of the Congress. While the tag-line for the BJP is "Sabka Saath - Sabka Vikas" which the BJP proposes to carry out through major investments in Infrastructure, Make in India, rural development, strengthening MSMRs, and so on while simultaneously empowering all segments of population through various programmes and part subsidies. While the Congress too talks of an all-round development through investment and policy review and formulation, but the main focus appears on the "Garibi Hatao" (Poverty removal) through doles and waivers as is apparent from their narratives of NYAY and Farm Loan Waiver.
As per a tentative estimate, the countrywide formers owe a total debt of the magnitude of about Rs 4 lakh crore from the banking institutions. Encouraged with their success in three states recently undergone elections on the promise of loan waiver, the Congress has now committed to grant waiver of all such loans if voted to power. Many in the Congress party consider the NYAY as a master stroke and game changer as key to their accession to power in the ensuing Parliamentary election. As already brought out, the party has assured direct transfer of an amount of Rs 72,000 per annum in bank accounts of 20% of the poorest families under the scheme. Approximately five crore families are likely to be benefitted under the scheme which will have an annual burden of about 3,60,000 crore on the Central exchequer.
Earlier the NDA government had implemented an income support scheme in 2018 for the farmers subject to certain threshold of landholding where under a subsidy of Rs 6,000 is granted in installments basically as assistance for procuring quality seeds, manure etc. Under the proposed NYAY of the Congress, the beneficiaries will get money 12 times more and the scheme is not limited to farmers. India indeed has poor people and this money will possibly allow them to choose as to what and when buy. This, however, leaves some ethical issues at hands such as:
- the government is utilizing the tax-payers hard earned money indiscriminately as dole to some category;
- free distribution of wealth disrupts work ethics leading to low productivity;
- it encourages a false and unreasonable sense of entitlement and some people tend to become idle and arrogant; and
- implementation will enhance corruption while deciding income of beneficiaries in the target group.
Remember there are a large number of small businesses and trades where the vendors earn substantially (without much investment) but there is no credible means to fairly assess their income. Thus NYAY may appear a good scheme for poor but it should not end up doing ANYAY (injustice) in more than one way to others on implementation.
However, the main issue remains how funds will be raised for the proposed wealth distribution and farm waiver. The economic wizards of the party do not see any problem in funding of the scheme as the revenue of the government is constantly rising. The party has also made some specific commitment to raise a new "Kisan Budget" (of unknown magnitude), invest 6% of GDP in education and 3% in Healthcare. In the earlier part, I had tentatively worked out how almost 66% of the current budget would be tied up with NYAY, Education and Healthcare alone, if the party implement the schemes sincerely as committed, As per the Congress manifesto, the party will spend more than ten times of what is being catered for the education and eight times more on the healthcare. There are other ambitious schemes including substantial increase in spending on defence. The spirit is good but where from the resources would come and how implementation machinery will be augmented is not spelt out. This becomes more intriguing when the party also commits to simplify and moderate tax structure including GST and minimize fiscal deficit by 2020-21.
Last but not the least, the Congress manifesto begins with a sharp criticism and condemnation citing the BJP government (rather than NDA) and incumbent prime minister for their last five years of governance and this opprobrium continues through the last page. Infact, the choice of words used against Prime Minister Modi (by name) at places could easily be placed under the profane category. On the other hand, the BJP has avoided criticism or reference of the rival(s) in their manifesto except occasionally comparing own performance with post-1991 governments in terms of certain outcomes and achievements. Instead, the party manifesto is focused on the performance of schemes of the past five years, commitment to continue it, and promising new schemes and programmes with specific targets and milestones in majority cases.
To put it without mincing words, the aspiring strategy of India's oldest party appears to make tall and ambiguous promises on doles, waivers and subsidies seeking popular mandate, and grab the opportunity by hook or crook. The Indian electorate is as such famous for a weak memory; hence subsequent non-implementation or poor implementation of promises may not pose any serious threat that cannot be dealt with building narratives and taking shelter to the "conditions attached" (with built in ambiguities) in the manifesto. This party has done it in the past with no regret or shame attached. The "Garibi Hatao" slogan was first given in early 1970s by the party under the former PM Indira Gandhi and it has been nearly five decades ever since with deep rooted poverty still around. The party has once again staked a strong bid to win national elections under the leadership of her third generation using same old tactics. I had read it somewhere that "an old trick is worth hundred new ones" and it is only few weeks from now when we will know its impact on the Indian electorate, which many people say, have become increasingly wise and alert.