Election manifestos lose significance once the results are out. Manifestos carry both realistic and unrealistic promises. There are cultural, religious and regional dimensions attached to it, but it is an economic promise offered to the voters. The winning party ignores its promises once it gets the reins of power and moves along with bureaucracy-driven projects-based governance.
The Assembly election in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram have posed challenges to the ruling BJP and its economic policies. The party failed to reach out to voters, especially in the rural areas. The BJP at the central level has no major programmes to reach out to rural areas. MGNREGA and Swachch Bharat Mission are the two options but the former still does not offer substantial economic benefits to rural India.
The boundaries of the Swachch Bharat Mission are limited. NITI Aayog has proposed a larger vision to achieve 10.4 percent annual growth rate and thus double farmers’ income by 2022.However, it neither puts in place any plan nor budget allocation to achieve this 10.4 percent growth rate.
The scrapping of the Planning Commission left a huge vacuum for the government to engage with the public. The corporatisation of developmental administration has never fetched votes for any political party in India. It gives economic benefits to political parties such as increasing corporate contribution to the party fund but does not connect the government with the public. This is an Indian reality.
The state assembly elections were crucial for the Congress Party to face the 2019 general elections. The most crucial promise made by the Congress party is farm loan waivers. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress offered to write-off farm loans of up to Rs 2 lakh and also provide a salary grant for five years for those industries offering jobs to the youth. It also promised to offer minimum support price (MSP) based on the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Committee report and also promised a pension of Rs 1,000 per month to farmers who crossed the age of 60 and hold less than 2.5 acres of land. Besides, it also promised a 50 percent subsidy on loans for agricultural equipment, reduced power bills and subsidies of Rs 5 per litre on milk procurement.
All the above looks attractive; however, these are the bare minimum. What the Congress should do is accept that Indian farmers are in a survival crisis with 67.10 percent farmers holding less than 1 hectare of land under operation and 17.91 percent holding between 1 to 2 hectacres.
Figure 1 (below) also explains declining output value of Indian agriculture. What needs to be done is to recapitalize agriculture lending and not the minimum support to farmers. No manifesto promises any effective macro level policy to address this burning rural issue.
The inclusion of the the M S Swaminathan commission report is the response towards farmers protest; however, the Commission proposes intensive and agribusiness-based farm reforms including participatory land acquired with the help of farmers. The Congress manifesto keeps a strategic silence on heavy capital investment and capital formation in the farm sector and instead depends on minimum populist measures.
In Rajasthan, the Congress party has promised farm loan waivers along with a monthly unemployment allowance of Rs 3,500 for youth and free education for women. In Chhattisgarh, the party has promised loan waivers within 10 days of coming to power. The MSP is also promised as per the recommendation of the Swaminathan Commission.
The most attractive promise which helped the party them to get votes is free and universal health care. However, it is a long process in Chhattisgarh since the state is far behind in public health provisions compared to the national-level. See table 1 (below)
Chhattisgarh government’s public distribution system was considered as one of the most efficient in the state; however, this is the state where more than 50 percent of the population live below the poverty line even in districts which are economically better-off. The spatial inequality is high in the state. So what the Congress manifesto promises is not enough for the developmental mobility.
Congress won the mandate to change the state; however, the state’s success depends on how the party will change itself to accommodate the needs of the people. The verdict is not to repeat what the BJP government did.
For Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana, the party needs to explain what they have done. Unlike, Congress, TRS had a platform to build a governance mechanism. Their manifesto talks about the livelihood support project it implemented. It is also taking ownership of a routine developmental project initiated by the party while in power.
The TRS came up with 24 promises to deliver if they were voted to power again. The first three are about offering pensions and social (minimum) security, and investment support of Rs 10,000 per acre for agriculture from the existing Rs 8,000. There are no exceptional promises and the remaining are routine promises and activities.
In Mizoram, the Mizo National Front’s major promise is to conduct a proper citizenship assessment and push the non-Mizos out of the state. It is replication of National Citizenship Record of Assam. It is new politics of ethnic nationalism.
The Assembly elections are said to be the semi-finals for the 2019 general election. The manifesto of the winning parties promises huge hope for citizens. The content of the manifestos and promises are deliverable, however, not sufficient for economic development of the states. This politics of bare minimum should be scrapped and there must be responsive promises rather than those that just attract public imagination.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Jamsetji Tata School of Disaster Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences)
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Updated Date: Dec 13, 2018 15:51:31 IST