With their future as the ruling party looking bleak, the Congress today, looked to up the ante in the poll battle with their manifesto. To strengthen their defence against the opposition, Congress president Sonia Gandhi made one of her rare appearances claiming that opinion polls predicting a Congress defeat have got their facts wrong.
Dismissing opinion polls that claimed BJP is much ahead of the Congress riding on the so called Modi wave, Sonia said, "We are quite confident that we will win these elections."
While Sonia may be confident of winning the polls, many Congress leaders seem to think otherwise, some are even choosing not to contest.
Meanwhile, the manifesto itself seemed to be the same old promises that the UPA had made in 2009. However, will this last ditch effort to window dress a poor track record of high inflation and low growth help the Congress at all?
Senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, during a debate on CNN-IBN said, "Manifestos don't matter that much. I saw the press conference as a last ditch attempt to instill some confidence, some fighting spirit in the party. With the BJP and AAP in fray, the Congress is not present in the mind space of the people. I don't think the actual content of the manifesto matters. It would have mattered had the UPA II to begun to move on their ideas and delivered on their promises that they are making in their manifesto."
More than the details of the manifesto it was almost as if Sonia Gandhi stepped in to re-energise the leaders who seem to have lost hope.
"They feel Rahul can't take this fight forward anymore and they need Sonia Gandhi," said CNN-IBN political editor Pallavi Ghosh.
"Sonia Gandhi understands the reality of grassroots that Rahul Gandhi still hasn't managed to master. But one cannot underestimate Rahul's role. The record of UPA in the last five years, however is something that neither Rahul nor Sonia can transcend," said Vardarajan.
Congress spokesperson Abid Rasul Khan denied that the Congress leaders have lost hope. "It is the other way around," Khan said and added, "The DMK deserting Modi, the TRS is deserting Modi. This is the strength of our ideology. What about the seniors who are rebelling against the BJP? Today the TRS has declared that they are not for the alliance with BJP."
Khan also defended the Congress manifesto saying, "Promises made in 2004 and 2009 reflects the view of the party. The reason for not being able to fulfill the promises is the regular tamasha by the opposition. Almost 90% of 2009 promises have been completed. We have a done a lot in roads, power, schools and infrastructure."
Khan backed his claim with statistics from the past 10 years. "Ten years ago food grain produce was 213 million tonnes and it has increased to 263 milliton tonnes, Coal has increased from 361 to 544. The minorities budget has seen a ten-fold increase, land distribution has also seen a ten-fold increase," he said.
Meanwhile, NK Singh who has recently joined the BJP saying that the claims made in them were laughable. "If you look at para three of Congress manifesto, these are promises made in 2009. Hasn't 10 years been enough for them to do something on the fiscal responsibility bill and the manufacturing sector," Singh questioned.
"The manifesto ends by saying it is not an ordinary manifesto of pledges and promises. In fact, they are false pledges and promises. Business enviroment has had a sharp decline in UPA I and a sharper decline in UPA II. In the context of all this the promise of 8% plus growth is a laughable promise," he said.
Countering the statistic put forth by Khan, Singh said, "If you divide the absolute increase with 10 years, then the rate of increase per annum is laughable. Projects worth 5 lakh crore are still in the pipeline."
In an interview to CNN-IBN Jairam Ramesh claimed that it was the duty of the party to include the unfulfilled promises in their manifesto as they would want to implement them when they come to power. Also, he pointed out that universal pension and right to health was their new agenda.
Colunmist and chairman of Oxus investments Surjeet Singh Bhalla said, "They were tried in Rajasthan and have failed. The NREGA did not transfer money to the poor, but to the corrupt. And even for economist job creation remains a puzzle. During the period of UPA I the economists called it jobless growth. Also the inflation for the past six years is precisely because of the UPA's poor policies. Food procurement inflation has been the highest in the history of 65 years."
Meanwhile political scientist Sandip Shastri argued that, "When a government goes to people to seek mandate the real manifesto is the record of the government and there will be a lot of questions raised on that when it comes to the UPA. Good decisions have been taken in the last few months and hasn't reached the people at the ground."
The Congress may be criticised on their policies in the last 10 years, but the BJP is not providing much of a solution. Narendra Modi has been shifting from issues to individuals, without an answer on specific steps he will take to bring down inflation.
Singh said, "I agree that on the issue of reviving growth, a horrendous agenda awaits Modi. But my prime ministerial candidate has given enough indications of how he intends to revive growth."
Shastri argued, "It is a challenge both for the Congress and the BJP. For the Congress it is the slippage between what is promised and what is given. There is also a perception challenge for the BJP since their promise is only being in critical of the Congress. There is no concrete plan and suggestion given to change things."