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Manifesto vs Manifesto Promises to Keep and Miles to Go

As the countdown to the formation of the next government at the Centre starts, it is the season for political parties to document their intent. In particular, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian National Congress and the Aam Admi Party (AAP) are fighting for the voters’ share of mind space at the national level. Manifestos as they come have lost some of their importance and relevance over time because past track record has shown a wide gap between intent and implementation. This is especially true in an era of coalition governments because it is not the intent of one party that will ensure implementation. Contextually, that is one of the reasons why BJP right upfront in its manifesto has stressed on the need for a voter mandate of “272+” seats that would give it a clear majority. Touch and go, as this looks at this point, manifestos nevertheless serve a minimum purpose: to understand the mind of the parties and the broad direction a government under them would take.

Crucially, what would be of significance in the current elections would be the party positions on governance and inclusion. That’s because the Congress fighting an incumbency factor has lost its credibility in a “decade of decay” as BJP calls in its manifesto because of its failure on many fronts on governance reforms. Raising the optimism for BJP on the other hand has been the successes of governance of two states where the party rules: Gujarat led by Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Madhya Pradesh headed by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Catching the imagination of a fatigued nation, the Aam Admi Party promises to bring in a silver lining to the cloudy skies of Indian politics highlighting a new form of governance giving greater power and decision-making to the people.

Manifestos therefore need to be read between the above text and sub-text. One of them is packaged well but lacks depth. The other is high on content and is forward looking. The third, on the other hand, reads like a document from a Left party that is trying to re-package itself in a modern avatar.

It is in the above light that the manifestos of the three parties need to be analysed through the prism of governance and inclusion: financial, social and digital.

Growth-Led Financial Inclusion

Ten years have made a lot of difference. The electoral battle for the 2004 mandate was fought largely on an economic platform. The NDA government trumpeted ‘India Shining’, but the voters gave it a thumbs down bringing in the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in its first phase. On the back of a strong economic foundation, the UPA government came back to power in 2009. Since then, a slew of social welfare programmes targeting the weak and under privileged have not stopped economic fundamentals taking a nose dive.

Now at the end of Congress-led UPA regime, GDP growth has plummeted to a low of 4.8 per cent, inflation and prices have moved up, fiscal deficit and current account deficit have widened and the manufacturing sector is facing a recession. The BJP manifesto adds that the Congress-led UPA has indulged in massive scams during its last five years.

BJP vows to bring back credibility and trust in government, re-sowing confidence in the India story domestically as well as internationally. Through consistent, long-term policies, it hopes to not just spur the process of economic growth, but also ensure that it is stable as well as balanced. It promises to ensure an era of fiscal discipline and financial inclusion

BJP vows to bring back credibility and trust in government, re-sowing confidence in the India story domestically as well as internationally. Through consistent, long-term policies, it hopes to not just spur the process of economic growth, but also ensure that it is stable as well as balanced. It promises to ensure an era of fiscal discipline and financial inclusion through:

  • Solutions, which are effective in the short run and lasting in the long run.
  • Strictly implement fiscal discipline, without compromising on funds availability for development work and asset creation.
  • Allocate resources efficiently and effectively to re-energise the engines of growth.
  • Re-visit the policy framework for investments both foreign and domestic to make them more conducive.
  • Undertake banking reforms to enhance ease and access, as well as accountability.
  • Encourage savings as an important driver of investment and growth.

Now at the end of Congress-led UPA regime, GDP growth has plummeted to a low of 4.8 per cent, inflation and prices have moved up, fiscal deficit and current account deficit have widened and the manufacturing sector is facing a recession.

The Congress Manifesto on the other hand is more defensive on its economic agenda coming as it does through years of global recession and economic mismanagement. The roadmap that it has laid out for 2014 lacks credibility on one key parameter: its chief economic architect in recent years Finance Minister P Chidambaram has opted out of the electoral race this time. Symbolic as it may be, Chidambaram’s absence in the electoral fray has weakened the image of a Congress trying to come back. That is because, paradoxically, the outgoing Finance Minister was seen to be one of its ablest ministers. Fiscal consolidation, rebuilding infrastructure, strengthening Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), giving more muscle to labour and workers through skills upgradation and export-led manufacturing are the various measures that a potential Congress-led government will undertake in 2014 if voted back to power a third time.

However, it is still not clear that in the absence of credibility in its promises, its agenda for financial and fiscal growth will cut much ice in a summer of discontent staring at Congress. The party however continues to be bullish in its vision for financial inclusion as evidenced in its manifesto: “The Indian National Congress’s agenda is one of social and economic transformation. Growth is essential for this transformation to happen and for it to be truly meaningful. It is economic growth that creates jobs for our youth. It is economic growth that gives us the resources to invest in our social welfare programmes and infrastructure development. The nature and quality of growth is equally important to ensure that the gains of growth are equitably distributed.”

The Indian National Congress’s agenda is one of social and economic transformation. Growth is essential for this transformation to happen and for it to be truly meaningful. It is economic growth that creates jobs for our youth. It is economic growth that gives us the resources to invest in our social welfare programmes and infrastructure development. The nature and quality of growth is equally important to ensure that the gains of growth are equitably distributed

The AAP on the other hand promises to place India on a sustainable, equitable, globally competitive, and high-growth trajectory. AAP believes that a dynamic, robust economy cannot be sustained by a fragile and inequitable society. Therefore, AAP’s idea of development is in harmony with the needs, skills, resources, and aspirations of the common man. AAP’s policies aim to empower every citizen to attain the highest level of fulfilment across the hierarchy of needs: from roti, kapda and makaan to security, dignity and personal potential.

The AAP manifesto says that apart from the alarming existing unemployment and underemployment levels across age groups, India has over 12 million new youth seeking jobs every year. AAP says it is committed to tapping India’s demographic dividend through economic policies that focus on creating decent employment and livelihood opportunities for young women and men in honest enterprises across agricultural, manufacturing or services sector.

AAP also believes that through the empowerment of the citizens of India, the government’s development efforts can be both better-directed and amplified manifold. For an equitable, pan-national and sustainable growth, AAP will also strive to provide all necessary amenities for sound farming practices and productive enterprises to proliferate in rural India. It also believes that a vibrant decentralised rural economy with a prosperous agricultural sector is pivotal in creating a wide economic base and ensuring the long-term food, energy and ecological security of India.

Perhaps the most important aspect of inclusion and governance this time—social inclusion—seems to be given. The broad agenda seems common to all the parties: women empowerment, youth development, tribal upliftment, food security and skills upgradation. Again, within social inclusion, education is getting top billing from all the parties

92 per cent of the workforce in India comprises of workers in the unorganised sector. This includes domestic workers, construction labour, security guards, rag-pickers, workers in small shops and restaurants, street-vendors, etc. who contribute significantly to the society and the economy, but often function under extremely exploitative conditions. It is this economic and social class that AAP hopes to uplift through a host of financially inclusive measures.

What is evident from the above is that while a cautious BJP and Congress have taken a big picture roadmap on economic growth and financial inclusion, AAP is more comprehensive of its views here.

Social Inclusion

Interestingly, the most comprehensive area of inclusion mentioned by all the three parties is that of social inclusion. To start with, one wonders if there is any difference in their overall vision on governance. The BJP manifesto highlights that “a vast reservoir of People’s Power has not yet been tested in the real sense. We have not been able to involve the people in Governance as functionaries and facilitators. Our developmental process will be a people’s movement – of Jan Bhagidari.” The paradox is that Bhagidari is a people focused governance initiative that has won much acclaim in the Delhi state government under former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. AAP is not to be left behind in this race to empower people. It says, “We will enact the Swaraj Bill, with every Gram Sabha and Mohalla Sabha to be given untied funds every year for developmental activities in their area, which they can use according to their own needs and priorities. The Gram Sabha (or Mohalla Sabha) would decide how and where the funds would be utilised for instance, laying a particular road, repairs at a school, opening a dispensary, rainwater harvesting and so on.”

Beyond this too, convergence on perhaps the most important aspect of inclusion and governance this time—social inclusion—seems to be given. The broad agenda seems common to all the parties: women empowerment, youth development, tribal upliftment, food security and skills upgradation. Again, within social inclusion, education is getting top billing from all the parties. What then is evident is that it is only in the details and the implementation that there could be a difference in the manifesto of the three parties.

Finally, Panchayati Raj is one key instrument of governance-led social inclusion that is a favourite of both the Congress and the BJP. While the former had a headstart in this right from the days of Rajiv Gandhi, BJP stole Congress’s thunder to some extent by perfecting it especially through its experiments in Gujarat. Now with Narendra Modi raring to go at the Centre, it is only natural that it finds a place of importance in the BJP manifesto.

The UPA government’s biggest ticket to its claim for promoting digital inclusion is Aadhaar that was ably captained by Nandan Nilekani who is now its party candidate from Bangalore. It acknowledges that Aadhaar is a powerful tool for transformation inclusion that is now in the grasp of 600 million Indians. Interestingly, Aadhaar is an instrument that ensures a unique 360 degrees inclusion experiment: digital, financial and social

Digital Inclusion

Easy, Efficient and Effective E-governance is the prime platform for BJP’s vision of digital inclusion. The manifesto re-affirms its belief that that IT is a great enabler for empowerment, equity and efficiency. Says the manifesto, “BJP has been known for good governance and e-governance will become the backbone for good governance. BJP aims to nurture a Digital India – making every household and every individual digitally empowered.”

Information technology has made it possible to make information and services reach to the ordinary men and women even in remote areas, easily and effectively. Availability of information is the key to empowerment of the stakeholders. This also reduces the scope for discretion and manipulation.

BJP promises to:

  • Focus on increasing the penetration and usage of broadband across the country. Deployment of broadband in every village would be a thrust area.
  • Leverage technology for e-Governance and engage proactively with the people through social media for participative governance and effective public grievance redressal mechanism.
  • Generate IT-based jobs in rural and semi-urban areas.
  • Make technology enabled products affordable for students.
  • Use technology to reduce the burden of books on children. Make all institutions and schools e- enabled in a phased manner.
  • Pursue a mission mode project under the ‘National Rural Internet and Technology Mission’ for use of telemedicine and mobile healthcare for rural healthcare delivery; use of IT for agriculture for real time information; Self Help Groups; retail trade; SMEs; and, rural entrepreneurs, etc.
  • Initiate a National e-Governance Plan to cover every Government office from the centre to the panchayats. The ‘E-Gram, Vishwa Gram’ scheme in Gujarat to be implemented nationwide.
  • Promote e-Bhasha – National Mission for the promotion of IT in Indian Languages.
  • Focus to bring SC/ST, OBCs and other weaker sections of the society within the ambit of IT enabled development.

The UPA government’s biggest ticket to its claim for promoting digital inclusion is Aadhaar that was ably captained by Nandan Nilekani who is now its party candidate from Bangalore. It acknowledges that Aadhaar is a powerful tool for inclusion that is now in the grasp of 600 million Indians. Interestingly, Aadhaar is an instrument that ensures a unique 360 degrees inclusion experiment: digital, financial and social.

Based on its successes here, the Congress promises to give a renewed thrust to the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). It argues that under its leadership, the country is moving towards transformation through ‘Democratisation of Information’. Efforts are underway to use ICT tools to herald transparency, efficiency, accountability and accessibility to create more inclusive and responsive structures, which are in tune with the needs of 21st century India. In fields such as agriculture, financial services, commerce, education and health, this ICT-led ‘Democratisation of Information’ is revolutionising service delivery, citizen interface and accountability through innovative practices. New tools under this will be the biggest game changer for bringing about larger systems reform.

Easy, Efficient and Effective E-governance is the prime platform for BJP’s vision of digital inclusion. Says the manifesto, “BJP has been known for good governance and e-governance will become the backbone for good governance. BJP aims to nurture a Digital India – making every household and every individual digitally empowered.”.

Manifestos are guideposts. In the hurly-burly of governance, political parties often neglect what they set out to achieve based on their promises. They believe that public memory is 100-day short and promises up to then are good enough. But that is the strength of Indian democracy. Six decades of Independence have shown time and again that manifestos should not be forgotten and are important documents that the people of the country will judge them by.

Team Inclusion

INCLUSION is the first and only journal in the country that champions the cause of social, financial and digital inclusion. With a discernable and ever- increasing readership, the quarterly relentlessly pursues the three inclusions through its rich content comprising analysis, reportage, features, interviews, grassroots case studies and columns by domain experts. The magazine caters to top decision makers, academia, civil society, policy makers and industry captains across banking, financial services and insurance.
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