Analysis

Nyay Patra 2024 of the Indian National Congress

Globally, those who have at least some knowledge of the Indian polity, would also be aware that India is a parliamentary democracy where elections are regularly held every five years for the national parliament, state legislative assemblies and local self-government for the cities, towns and village levels. Currently, this democratic election process for the parliamentary elections is in full swing and the Indian National Congress aka the Congress, the oldest political party of India, has released its election manifesto on 04 April 2024 containing hundreds of promises to the electorate, including a commitment to eliminate poverty from the country and scathing attacks on the programmes and policies as well as personal criticism of the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The key leaders of the grand old party namely Rajya Sabha Member & Chairperson, Congress Parliamentary Party Sonia Gandhi, Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi, Party President Mallikarjun Kharge and Chairman, Manifesto Committee P. Chidambaram named it ‘Nyay Patra’ (Justice Epistle) with a tagline “Haath Badlega Halaat” (Hand Will Change Things).

Releasing ‘The Manifesto’

Releasing the Manifesto, the Congress leaders alleged that every aspect of the "justice" has been threatened, weakened, diminished and in some cases even denied during the last 10 years, especially in the last 5 years from 2019 t0 2024 by the Narendra Modi government. To further elaborate this, the leaders added that they had already warned of in 2019: The institutions will be diminished or captured, that is happened; the freedom will be restricted and that is happened; the weaker sections of the people will be denied their rights and their privileges, that has happened; the Parliament will be diminished, it happened; and the nation will inexorably move towards an autocracy and it has happened. Therefore, justice is the underlining key word of the Congress manifesto, which has essentially focused on five “pillars of justice” i.e. Yuva Nyay (justice for youth), Naari Nyay (justice for women), Kisaan Nyay (justice for farmers), Shramik Nyay (justice with workers) and Hissedari Nyay (justice for equity). To meet the ends of justice, the Congress has promised a total 25 guarantees with an overall theme of three powerful words - Work, Wealth, and Welfare.

It is unfortunate yet a bitter reality that the country's oldest party is facing an unprecedented mass exodus of leaders/members just before the ensuing parliamentary elections. During the Manifesto release function, there was no hint as to whether the party had prior contemplation on the anti-defection law, but their position is that a member should be disqualified as soon as defection takes place. The Gandhi scion (Rahul Gandhi) emphasized that the current election was about those who are trying to destroy the Constitution and destroy democracy in this country versus those who are trying to protect the Constitution and protect democracy in this country. Taking a dig at the media and press reports, he expressed confidence and hope of winning the election in a close contest. While recalling the 138-year journey of the Congress in service of the nation citing great achievements, the Congress leaders lamented how during Narendra Modi led NDA rule the youth have lost jobs, farmers have lost hope, traders have lost business, micro, small and medium enterprises have lost their confidence, women have lost a sense of security, deprived communities have lost their economic rights, and institutions have lost independence; all this due to the prevailing ‘climate of fear, intimidation and hatred’.

The introductory part of the Nyay Patra says that based on the record of the first term of the Modi government (2014-2019), the Congress party had forewarned the people of the precarious state of Indian polity and economy as also the dangers of re-electing the BJP/NDA government. Alas! The assessment by the Congress has not only proved true but also many of the weaknesses and woes have only further deepened during the last five years (2019-2024). In their own words, the Congress party endorsed its 2019 manifesto along with its newer and more pragmatic approach with credible solutions to take out the country and people from the mess created by the ruling NDA. The manifesto adds that it is not merely a question of choice between the Congress or BJP, but more than that a choice between a democratic government (as Congress assumes self) or an authoritarian rule (refers to Modi led NDA) as also prosperity for all (common people) or wealth for a few (select corporate like Adanis and Ambanis). Through the newly released Nyay Patra, the Congress assures freedom from fear, justice and prosperity for all and sundry.

The Nyay Patra 2024

The manifesto is comprised of a total of 46 pages, sub-divided under ten core areas and issues of prime concern, preceded with an introduction and concluded with an appeal to the electorate. In the following paragraphs, the author proposes to briefly discuss the core promises along with own analysis and remarks, where considered necessary. Just to illustrate the point made about the aforesaid “justice”, the Congress had earlier promised a minimum income scheme to eliminate poverty from the country in its 2019 general election manifesto naming it NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana) whereunder every poor family in the country was assured rupees seventy-two thousand per annum (@ Rs 6,000 per month) without any doing work. Needless to mention, the party failed to convince the electorate and fared poorly during the 2019 elections. The same scheme has now been rechristened as the Mahalaxmi Scheme in the Nyay Patra, under which the party has promised Rs one lakh to the account of the oldest woman in the poor family to alleviate poverty.

The Gandhi scion spoke in an election rally at Anupgarh in Rajasthan on 11 April 2024, “Congress Sarkar desh ke har garib parivar ki mahila ke bank khate me (ek saal me) ek lakh rupaye transfer karegi… agar aap garibi rekha se neeche hain to har saal ek lakh rupaye (8,500 rupaye prati maah) khatakhat khatakhat aata rahega aur ek jhatke se hum Hindustan se garibi mita denge…” (The Congress government will transfer Rs one lakh every year to the bank account of the woman in the poor family… in case, you are living below the poverty line, you will instantly keep receiving Rs one lakh every year (@ Rs 8,500 per month) and we will eradicate poverty from India in one stroke). He took a dig at the Indian media at the same time that it was the duty of the media to highlight the issues faced by the poor people but, instead, they prefer reporting corporate events like Ambani scion’s marriage and glorifying Narendra Modi twenty-four hours a day. Needless to mention, the idea (or freebie allurement) of ‘NYAY’ didn’t work in 2019 general election, and its impact (old wine in new bottle) on the electorate is yet to be seen in the current phase.

The author proposes to briefly highlight the major issues and promises made by the Congress party under the each identified core area along with own remarks, where necessary, in the following paragraphs:

I - Equity

Under the equity, the manifesto has covered points on the social justice, religious and linguistic minorities, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual), etc. Together the manifesto includes as many as 62 promises for justice under various categories. The underlining message of the social justice is that the SC, ST and OBC communities have a population of about 70% yet they face discrimination and low representation in every walk of life including high-ranking professions, services and businesses. Therefore, the Congress government will ensure social justice by carrying out a nation-wide caste, sub-caste and socio-economic census, and modify the Constitution to raise the existing 50 per cent cap on their reservation. Another 10 per cent reservation in jobs and educational institutions will be carried out for the economically weaker sections (EWS). Here the paradox is the very same people and party talk about removing cast barriers on one hand, and then bid for a caste census to do caste based social justice.

Other significant social justice measures include abolition of the contractualisation of jobs, regularization of such appointments, doubling the amount and number of scholarships for the SC, ST and OBC classes, Rohith Vermula Act to end caste discrimination, abolition of manual scavenging and rehabilitation of such people through re-skilling and providing a job with an assured life of safety and dignity. It has, however, not been explained with any roadmap for future as to how and in what time-frame all these wonderful reforms shall be carried out. Similarly, it is also not clear whether any assessment of the magnitude of actions required for this and financial implications have been carried out at least on provisional basis. In the same context, it may also be relevant to mention that the Congress and their partners have together ruled this country for about sixty years since independence in August 1947 and perhaps found this long period insufficient for carrying out their social justice plans. As for the Indian Constitution is concerned, it had initially catered reservation in jobs for the SC and ST communities only for ten years and advocated against any distinction or discrimination based on religion, caste, community and region.

A total of 9 promises have been made for the religious and linguistic minorities of India. Some of the provisions thus made include constitutional guarantees, a fair share of opportunities in education, healthcare, public employment, public works contracts, institutional credit, skill development, sports and cultural activities, and so on. The Congress manifesto also promises freedom of the choice of dress, food, language and personal laws. Although they will encourage reforms of personal laws but not without the consent of the communities concerned. The Maulana Azad Scholarships for the study abroad shall be restored with increased number of scholarships. In India, the minorities include Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists, Jains, Jews, and so on. However, the focuses of the Congress and its traditional partners have been only Muslim community, which constitutes a significant percentage of electorate in the country. During the previous Congress government, the former PM Manmohan Singh spoke on record that the minorities specially Muslims should be given priority on the national resources.When the party talks about personal laws and the choice of the dress, food and language, it practically means that the community shall be allowed a free hand in these matters. 

The choice of dress, food, language and personal laws appears harmless and reasonable on face value but its practice on ground is not that simple. Article 44 of the Constitution says, “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” This implies that it is the duty of the state to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India. However, former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru led Congress adopted a sectarian approach in passing only Hindu Civil Code which is now applicable to all Indian religions, consciously leaving the Muslims and Christians to follow their own age-old personal laws despite evil practices like polygamy, triple talaq, halala, and so on. Only recently, the country had a major crisis with violent upsurge creating a serious law and order situation in states, when a few Muslim female students in the state of Karnataka insisted for freedom to wear hijab/burqa in violation of the prescribed common dress code by the schools. The Congress and like-minded parties have religiously followed the appeasement policy towards Muslims keeping an eye over the large electorate. The famous Shahbano case could be cited as the most pertinent illustration where the party used its overwhelming mandate in the parliament to reverse the Supreme Court verdict granting alimony to the divorcee poor woman.

In the health sector, the Congress manifesto includes as many as 19 promises making the healthcare free and universal in terms of hospitals, clinics, primary health canters, mobile healthcare units, dispensaries, health camps, free examination, diagnostics, treatment, surgery, medicines, rehabilitation and palliative care. To achieve this, the Congress government will increase budget allocation upto 4 per cent of the total Central Government expenditure. While several promises have been made for the welfare of senior citizens and disabled people (Modi Government addresses them as “differently abled persons"), the Congress manifesto also promises the LGBTQIA community to bring a law recognizing the civil union (i.e. marriage or living together as couple without it) between such couples - a controversial approach on which currently a nationwide debate is on with many NDA constituents against it citing it unnatural and unethical.

II – Youth

Under the youth category, the manifesto has covered points on jobs (8), education (25) and sports (7) with a total of 40 promises made for their progress and welfare. According to them, the future of the country lies in the youth who are facing joblessness and hopelessness everywhere, the root cause being massive unemployment under the BJP/NDA government. To tackle their problem, the Congress guarantees one year apprenticeship with one lakh grant in public or private sector to every youth below the age of 25 years. Besides, they have also inter alia promised filling of some 30 lakh vacancies, new start ups, abolition of application fees in examinations and one time waiver of all educational loans as on 15 March 2024. Similarly, the manifesto also speaks of revisiting NEET, CUET etc. with a view to giving free hand to the states for conducting their own examinations as hitherto fore. As the author can perceive from the terms like revisit/review, the Congress is committed to reverse many such schemes, programs and innovations of BJP/NDA, if voted in power. 

III – Women

Under the manifesto, points for the women are covered under two sub-headings namely Mahalaxmi and Women’s Empowerment with a total of 17 promises. Under the Mahalaxmi scheme, the Congress has promised to provide Rs one lakh per year (@ Rs 8,500 per month) to every poor family as an unconditional cash transfer and this amount will be credited to the bank account of the oldest woman of the household. A reference to this scheme has been made in an earlier paragraph too. The scheme earlier promised in 2019 manifesto as NYAY with a cash transfer of Rs 72 thousand to each poor family has been revised as Mahalaxmi scheme now. In the past, despite backing from some so-called eminent economists, the idea of putting a huge burden on the national exchequer in the name of poverty removal had received massive criticism from several quarters and was rejected by the electorate too. A far better choice would have been to come out with worthwhile welfare schemes and programs to improve the standards of life of such people rather than pushing them under addiction to “no need to work” when the government is already supplying cash for no work. It is yet to be seen how the electorate will respond to this freebie culture.

The Congress feels that the 106th Constitutional amendment for the participation of women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies marks is a great betrayal to women by the ruling BJP with sinister designs, which will come into force only beyond 2029 (reasons were also explained by the minister  in Parliament while passing the bill). So the Congress has promised the deletion of the sinister (not explained?) provisions from the Act for its immediate implementation with effect from 2025. The other significant promises are 50 per cent reservation for women in central government jobs starting in 2025, women to be appointed in high positions as judges, secretaries and police & law officers in the government as also as directors on the board of companies. The principles of “same work same pay” will be applied to women, strict laws for offences against women will be enforced, financial credit to women facilitated, contribution from the central government for various schemes at the local self-government level doubled, and equal rights to women in marriage, succession, inheritance, adoption, guardianship etc. shall be ensured. Of course, any details or explanations are not available as to how and in what time-frame all this empowerment of women will take place, including enabling laws and required financial support but this new found love of the party for women is welcome and appreciable.

IV - Farmers

Farmers and farming sector are yet another priority and focus areas in the Congress manifesto with a total 24 promises under the sub-heading Agriculture (14) and Fisheries and Fishing Communities (10). Referring to now withdrawn three agricultural Acts introduced in 2019-20, the Nyay Patra says that the BJP has been callous and brutal to the farmers and the Congress is the only party that listens to them. While making tall promises for the progress and welfare of farmers, the Congress inter alia has promised a legal guarantee to the minimum support prices (MSP) to all crops as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission. Besides, the existing Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) will be made a statutory body. The party has also promised a permanent commission on agriculture finance and crop insurance, regulated markets under the APMC Act, and freedom to farmers to sell agricultural produce at the farm-gate or at any other place of choice. In the context of farmers, the author would like to make only two following observations:

(i) The Swaminathan Commission on agricultural reforms was constituted by the Congress (UPA) government in 2004 and the Commission submitted five reports from 2004 to 2006 recommending umpteen reforms, of which the MSP for the crops was one important recommendation. During ten years of the Congress rule at Centre from 2004 to 2014, the government did not implement recommendations made by the Swaminathan Commission, including MSP, expressing resources constraints. This was Modi government which acted on the reports of the Commission and has implemented many of its recommendation including MSP on 23 identified crops as of now.

(ii) Many top leaders of the Congress are on record in their past speeches and public utterances favouring the market driven agricultural reforms for years. However, when Prime Minister Modi led NDA government promulgated three relevant Acts in September 2020 for implementation of various reforms in the agriculture sector, simultaneously retaining the existing system of MSP on crops and APMC markets for the ease of farmer, the same Congress and other like-minded opposition parties opposed reforms and actually instigated and supported ill-conceived agitation by a section of farmers in 2020-21 until the Acts were withdrawn by the government in 2021 not because reforms per se were wrong but for their political compulsions.

V – Workers

Although there is no path-breaking idea or promise for the common workers but the manifesto contains 14 promises for the workers too. Some of the more significant points include reforms in the industrial and labour laws, removal of gender discrimination and gender inequality at the workplace, principle of ‘same work same wages’, increase in MGNREGA wages to Rs 400 per day with enhanced scope of work, expansion of PDS (public distribution system), launching of an urban employment programme, doubling the number of Anganwadi workers, second Asha worker in a population of over 2,500 people, creation of an additional fourteen lakh jobs, and so on. The author does not wish to make any qualitative remarks on these general promises.

VI - Defending the Constitution

At the outset, the author would say that the Constitution has been the most frequently abused word in media and public utterances by certain class of politicians and the political parties in the past, and more so during the last 10 years of the Prime Minister Modi led NDA rule. The paradox is that some of the most debatable and controversial amendments in the Constitution such as 42nd amendment of the Constitution during the emergency rule was made by the Congress governments during nearly six decades of governance directly by the Congress or Congress supported parties. Notwithstanding it, the party makes allegation that neither the Constitution nor any democratic institution is safe under the present BJP led NDA government. Accordingly, several drastic changes have been promised in the Nyay Patra under the sub-headings ‘Saving Democracy, Removing Fear, Restoring Freedom’ (18), Reversing the Damage (2), Media (8), Judiciary (6), Art, Culture and Heritage (11) and Anti-corruption listing areas for investigation, provided the Congress government comes in power following the general elections.

The Congress says that India’s democracy has been reduced to an empty shell with every institution, including Parliament, having lost its independence and becoming subservient to the current executive government. Therefore, the Congress promises freedom from fear, restoration of speech & expression, decriminalization of defamation, stop suspension of internet, review the Tele Communication Act, 2023 to remove unacceptable laws, ensure the choice of freedom of food, dress, love and marriage, and everything that interferes with personal freedom and the right to privacy. The author would only submit that such allegations have been constantly made nationally and aggressively publicized internationally too while the truth is the democracy and secularism was never so safe in the country as in the present dispensation. Such allegations reflect more of the frustration of the ambitious and influential individuals (politicians) and opposition parties. For instance, one can easily observe these days even a petty leader, journalist or individual openly criticizing, even abusing with death threat, Prime Minister (by name), or even President, yet they make allegation that the freedom of speech and expression has been suppressed. It has become a practice to abuse institutions if their decision or verdict is not favourable to such individuals and parties. Things like the choice of food, dress, love and marriage are raised basically to appease a particular community.

The congress has rejected the idea of the ‘one nation one election’ floated during the current NDA stint to save precious time and money owing to frequent and separate elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies in vogue under the present system. They have also questioned the electronic voting machine (EVM) and the transparency of the ballot paper, and promised to make desired reforms. According to the Congress, the most institutions in the country have now lost freedom and are subservient to the Modi government; hence the party promises to restore autonomy of the Election Commission of India, the Central Information Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Commissions for SC, ST, minorities and OBC, and many other constitutional bodies. The paradoxical part is that all this hullabaloo is raised while there is not even one concrete case against the central government of fiddling with the institutions while a number of cases could be cited from the past governments where certain constitutional authorities acted and institutions indeed were seen subservient to the earlier governments.

Many other promises indicate and vindicate the reactionary approach of the country's oldest party. It is true that enough freedom is available under the laws of the land for the law-makers to switch over their parties and allegiance. In recent years, the nation has observed a mass exodus from the Congress to other parties, including BJP; so now, the Congress has promised automatic disqualification if any elected MP or MLA changes their loyalty and allegiance to party. In the past, the political leaders enjoyed sort of unwritten immunity against law and instances of prosecution were very rare.  One could find dozens of dynastic political leaders and families who are billionaire holding disproportionate assets without any viable source of income. During the NDA regime, the enforcement and investigating agencies have been strengthened to act against the known offenders and corrupt people irrespective of their affiliations and influence. Consequently, many politicians are facing heat now and made answerable before the laws of the land. The Congress perceives this action as a conspiracy and vendetta politics; occasionally some leaders have even resorted to open threat  to investigating agencies in future.  In Nyay Patra, the Congress party has promised to make appropriate changes to discipline such agencies so that the police, investigation and intelligence agencies will function strictly in accordance with law.  The party also favours the principle “bail is the rule, jail is the exception” in all such cases. The party has also promised to restore as the erstwhile Planning Commission replacing the 'Niti Ayog'.

Under the category of “Reversing the Damage”, the manifesto says that the BJP/NDA have carried out tremendous damage by misusing the brute majority to make laws violating the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India as well as the fundamental principles of the law-making, namely necessity, consultation, reasonableness and proportionality during the last 10 years relating to workers, farmers, criminal justice, environment & forests and digital data protection. The Congress promises that all such laws will be reviewed and changed, Although they have not put it in the manifesto but they also frequently talk about the Article 370 and status of the Jammu & Kashmir and that they will reverse it again if voted in power. The author would prefer to refrain from making any comments on the distorted and reactionary vision of a party but a clarification is necessary that the BJP/NDA do not enjoy a brute majority in the current Parliament; they have simple or absolute majority in the Lok Sabha (Lower House) but fall well short of it in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House). Therefore, the majority of legislation made so far is with the assistance of some other political parties which independently apply their wisdom and support what is good for the nation and people of India.

In the context of anti-corruption, the Congress states that several measures taken by the BJP/NDA government during last 10 years were actually a cloak for corruption quoting some examples such as demonetization, the Rafale deal, Pegasus spyware, and the electoral bond scheme. then they say that many known offenders and scamesters were allowed to leave country. The Congress promises to carry out complete investigations of the Electoral Bonds Scam, the reckless sale of public assets, the PM CARES scam, repeated intelligence failures at the highest levels and corruption in major defense procurement like the Rafale deal. Giving any detailed description about the alleged corruption and scams is beyond the scope of this essay but it is a well-known fact that the BJP/NDA government has remained free from scams or corruption cases during the last ten years. When the Congress, some other opposition leaders and a section of media started a vicious campaign against the Government-to-Government Rafale deal for the much-needed fighter aircrafts by the Indian Air Force, the Supreme Court and the CAG of India had independently examined and investigated such allegations in its whole gamut, and gave a clean chit to the government and service concerned. It is a well-known fact that all political parties receive donation from various companies/individuals. Till a few years back, the Congress was the biggest beneficiary and the entire process of receiving money was fully opaque with indiscretion and underhand dealings. The introduction of the Electoral Bond Scheme by the NDA government has actually brought in transparency in the process despite ethical issues.

The Congress feels that a significant section of media have been robbed of, or surrendered, their freedom during the last ten years of Narendra Modi led NDA rule. So the Congress has made several promises with required legislation and executive action to ensure the freedom of press and internet. The Congress feels that an independent judiciary is necessary in view of the misgovernance, weaponization of the laws, misuse of investigating agencies and abuse of executive powers by the BJP/NDA government in last 10 years; hence. A National Judicial Commission (NJC) shall be constituted for the selection and appointment of judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court. Also, more women and persons from SC, ST, OBC and minorities will be appointed as judges in the High Courts and Supreme Court. Judicial history during the Congress regimes is itself an interesting subject of study but the current trend is if the verdict of the High Court and/or Supreme Court does not suit the party, the verdict itself (even integrity of judiciary!) becomes questionable to their wisdom. In the manifesto, the Congress has also promised to protect the rich diversity of India’s art and culture in an atmosphere of freedom and creativity.

VII - Economy

The Congress claims to have ushered in an era of liberalization and steered the country (under Narsimha Rao Government) toward an open, free and competitive economy with regulatory oversight. Of course, it’s a different side of the same coin that the top leadership of the Congress party had disowned the former Prime Minister Narsimha Rao for the alleged deviation from the Nehruvian economic model. This acrimony within the party grew to such an extent that, reportedly, the remains (dead body) of the former prime minister was denied even a glimpse to the party office and cremation in the national capital. Now alleging that the BJP/NDA rule led to slowing of economy with no or very less jobs, the Congress, claiming the credit of earlier liberalization and accrued benefits, says that it is the time for a reset of the economic policy. So the manifesto promises a “Nav Sankalp Economic Policy”, the cornerstone of which will be creation of jobs by becoming the world’s biggest producing economy. The three goals of the Congress’ new economic policy will be work, wealth and welfare of people.

Under works alone, the Congress has made 21 promises lamenting over the current state of economy under the BJP/NDA government miserably falling short of GDP growth target. According to the Congress, had their government continued in office, the economy would have doubled by now but, if elected, the Congress is committed to a rapid growth and generation of wealth by doubling the GDP in the next ten years. The focus of the Congress government will be to create thousands of jobs by promoting large, medium, small and micro enterprises, particularly in the private sector, removing the environment of the alleged distrust and fear. The Congress will also ensure financing and freedom to sale anywhere in the country. Author would only say that it is heartening to note the Congress is now put some reliance on the private sector and making India a producing hub because so for the party and key leaders have been only criticizing and ridiculing umpteen initiatives and schemes of the BJP led NDA government such as ‘Make in India’, ‘Start-up India’, ‘Digital India Mission’, ‘Stand-up India’, ‘Skill India Mission, ‘Atmnirbhar Bharat’, and so on, which are actually writing success stories for the New India. 

The Congress feels that the wealth generation has been slow and tardy so far due to harmful policies and mismanagement by the BJP/NDA government. So the manifesto comes with a promise to double the GDP of the nation in next ten years. They vouch that the Nav Sankalp Economic Policy will work to build a fair, just and equal opportunity economy to usher in the prosperity and welfare to all sections of people in India. Under a Congress government, the welfare of the poor will be the first charge on all government resources. It will be the Congress’ endeavour to ensure that the 22 crore people below the poverty line are lifted above the line in the next 10 years (remember Mahalaxmi scheme with freebie one lakh!). It is also welcome to note that the Congress is now acknowledging the role of the Private Sector in development and progress because the key leaders like Rahul Gandhi are so far known only for dumping unsubstantiated allegations about the complicity between a few corporate and NDA government.

Unemployment, taxation and tax reform, industry and infrastructure are some other crucial segment having received attention in the Congress party Nyay Patra. The Congress, if voted in power, government have promised to fill up nearly 30 lakh vacancies in various departments of the central government. Then they have promised to abolish the Agnipath programme introduced during the NDA rule and direct the Armed Forces to resume normal recruitment to fill up full sanctioned strength. Congress feels that demonetization and GST in the present form were flawed and unnecessary; so the GST laws enacted by the NDA government shall be replaced with the new GST regime of a single and moderate rate. For industry too, the Congress has some wonderful and path-breaking ideas in making India a manufacturing hub by raising the share of manufacturing from 14 per cent to 20 per cent of GDP in the next five years. But even more worthy and most immediate objective is to restore a healthy, fearless and a trustworthy climate for businesses to make India leaders in multiple industries such as steel, metals, garments and textiles, cement, automobiles, electronic goods, pharmaceuticals, engineering goods, petroleum products, chemicals, and mining rare earths and critical minerals. Similarly, some wonderful ideas and promises are made in the infrastructure sector too about attracting private capital for creation of the public assets and infrastructure with an aim to stop "the current loot of public money" (as quoted). The author considers it a just waste of time and energy to give any opinion on idiosyncrasies.

VIII - Federalism

In some public utterances, one key leader of the Congress has even questioned the concept of India as a nation. The manifesto says that the federalism is the foundational principle of ‘India is a Union of States’ based on mutual trust between the Union and States. But this trust (thereby implying the federalism) has been systematically destroyed by the BJP/NDA government. So the federalism has been dealt with under the three sub-divisions, namely Centre-State Relations (12 promises), Rural-Urban Development (10 promises) and North-Eastern States (7 promises). The Congress will review the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution to transfer certain item from the concurrent list to state list to empower the latter. Some other important promises include instructions to the Finance Commission to evolve a more rational devolution of funds to states, full statehood to Jammu & Kashmir and Puducherry, special category status to Andhra Pradesh and more powers to urban local bodies. The party also promises to pay equal attention to the rural development with adequate infrastructure and protect pluralism and diversity of the northeastern states with special focus on the disturbed areas of the state of Manipur.

IX - National Security

The manifesto deals with the national security under three broad divisions, namely the Defense (11 promises), Internal Security (7 promises) and Foreign Policy (12 promises). For Defense, the manifesto starts with severe criticism of the Modi government alleging fiasco in Galwan clash with China and that the latter has occupied vast areas of the Indian Territory during the NDA regime. The Congress has inter alia promised sufficient funds to the Armed Forces, scrap the Agnipath Scheme and expand opportunities to woman in combatant and non-combatant roles. The Congress claims to have already revamped the internal security system with a number of radical measures after the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. The new promises inter alia include curtailment with firm hand and commensurate punishment to the guilty of hate speech and hate crimes, communal conflict, mob lynching, extra-judicial killings, bulldozer justice, etc (as such Congress keeps on making such allegations against BJP and RSS). The Congress will affirm and uphold the continuity of the foreign policy as shaped through the wisdom and vision of their leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru as also resort to course correction of the deviations and departures made by the BJP/NDA government during last ten years, notably in the ongoing Gaza conflict. The Congress will also work to improve India’s image allegedly damaged by the BJP/NDA government, paying more attention to immediate neighbors.

The aforesaid promises and proposed action may sound fascinating and real to those who have no previous knowledge about the traditional Congress leadership, their views and working on the subjects like defense, internal security and foreign policy. In fact, it is strange and paradoxical too that the party continues to vouch and follow Nehruvian ideology on defense and foreign affairs despite some of the most glaring failures and blunders in these areas well documented by many knowledgeable and well-meaning experts. One could write a thesis on mishandling of the defence and foreign affairs by the Congress governments but only few examples of such blunders are mentioned here: One, former PM Jawaharlal Nehru's reluctance and refusal of the permanent seat in the UN Security Council while both the superpowers' US and USSR (now Russia) were inclined to offer it to India in place the ROC (Taiwan). Similarly, his over confidence and trust on the leadership of the Communist China while compromising own defense needs led to the Chinese betrayal and 1962 Indo-China War, when India badly suffered with significant territorial losses. From his own first-hand experience during 1990s as a senior officer handling Budget & Planning of the Defence Services, the author is aware how the vital defense needs were constantly compromised/denied citing resources constraints. A senior Congress leader and former Defense Minister is on record making statement in the Parliament that their government was not keen on developing infrastructure along the Indo-China border for the strategic reasons. According to him, the China had significant military edge over India and in the event of a conflict/war such infrastructure may actually work against us facilitating smooth progression of the Chinese forces. It is heartening to learn that the party is keen to meet and strengthen armed forces and their vital needs now. 

X – Environment

Environment is 10th and last generic agenda in the manifesto broadly explained under two categories, namely Environment, Climate Change and Disaster Management (13 promises) and Water Management and Sanitation (7 promises). It explains how path-breaking initiatives were taken by the previous Congress governments and the BJP continued with it despite the latter's misinformed criticism, including certain departures. They say that the environment protection, forest conservation, biodiversity preservation, coastal zone regulation, wetlands protection and protection of tribal rights have been weakened owing to these departures during the BJP/NDA regime. In their manifesto through renewed promises, the Congress has committed to set it right and ensure a rapid, inclusive and sustainable development and protection of the ecosystems, local communities, flora and fauna. Among several different promises, they have committed for an independent Environment Protection & Climate Change Authority to guide, advise and monitor various developments. Another promise made is about the Green New Deal Investment Program focused on renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure with creation of green jobs. The author would not like to make any qualitative remarks on the Congress promises on environment but would certainly like to present some concrete data on just one area i.e. the renewable green energy just for illustration how valid and tenable (?) is the Congress criticism. As on 31 July 2014, the cumulative progress including all previous governments on the installed capacity of the renewable energy was 33,447 MW, which is now 136,570 MW in just over 9 years of the Prime Minister Modi led NDA/BJP government, recording a growth of over 408 per cent.

Epilogue

The Congress sums up seeking people’s mandate with scathing attack on the BJP/NDA government suggesting the latter is marked with only exaggeration and publicity delivering widespread unemployment, high inflation and low growth hitting the poor and middle class below the belt in an atmosphere of fear, hate and divisive politics. On the other hand, the Congress delivered independence, laid foundation of democracy, ensured sustained economic growth and stood with people with substance and performance against injustice and oppressive laws. Now for any rational and well-meaning Indian, the question is where is that Congress which the manifesto is talking about?  In a way, the lengthy document is marked with only two remarkable features: The first being the promise for the Mahalaxmi scheme delivering Rs one lakh cash to nearly 22 crore population every year without any work at the tax-payers' cost; the other is the widespread criticism of the BJP/NDA with promises of reversal and resetting of almost everything done for the good of the nation and people that sounds more like empty words sans any measurable milestones or deliverables at least for now. A party talks about the "equity" (social justice) and Constitution that has seemingly caused the maximum injustice and damage to it in previous years.

The country indeed needs a strong and viable opposition as alternative but, currently, the Congress party is facing an exodus at a massive scale with many well-known and influential leaders deserting it to join the BJP and other political parties. The top leadership of the party have either already opted for the Rajya Sabha route or seen deserting their traditional bastions to look for safer constituencies. The Congress has managed to forge an I.N.D.I. Alliance just before elections with many other dynastic regional parties as partners. However, here again the dilemma and catch is that in the majority of states the party is at the receiving end with their powerful regional partners offering it only residual or limited number of seats. On the other hand, in the states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand where the Congress is engaged with the BJP in a straight contest, the party’s position is already very precarious according to the media reports. Therefore, in a scenario where the BJP has already come out with a “Sankalp Patra” showing concrete and quantified output and outcomes of their last two terms, while simultaneously presenting specific and time-bound targets and deliverables for the third term, the Congress is likely to have a real tough time with its Nyay Patra lacking any original and concrete vision, mission and action plan in its struggle for survival.

15-Apr-2024

More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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