Reaffirming faith in its welfare-based model of governance, the Congress party has promised a slew of rights in its manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls, making a pitch for inclusive growth while also committing to improve the ease of doing business.
The party claimed it had implemented 90 per cent of its 2009 manifesto and laid out a 100-day agenda for growth on its return to power. It also pledged to support the “goodwill nurtured for decades” among socialist countries on the foreign policy front.
The manifesto – with the slogan “your voice, your pledge” — was released by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the presence of vice president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday at a tame ceremony marked by the absence of many of its ministers.
Laying emphasis on its tested formula of rights-based legislation, the party has promised six more rights – to health, pension, homestead, social security, dignity and humane working conditions, as well as entrepreneurship to “protect and assist all those who seek to become entrepreneurs”.
The party has said these rights would “supplement” the other rights brought in by its government, including the Right to Information, Education, Food and Employment.
Speaking at the event, Rahul — who had initiated a five-month process of consultation for drafting the manifesto – said the manifesto was “truly the voice of the people of this country” since the Congress had decided to draft it “not behind closed doors” but by taking it “to the people”.
Claiming 90 per cent of the 2009 manifesto had been implemented by the UPA government, the Congress vice president said, “We believe for this country to grow, there has to be a strong partnership between business, economic sectors and the poor…This country cannot grow by neglecting either”.
The manifesto proposes to increase health expenditure to 3 per cent of GDP to support the Right to Health and provide “universal and quality healthcare for all Indians (including free medicines)”.
This promise comes at a time when a similar experiment, bogged down by implementation issues, by the previous Congress government in Rajasthan is seen to have failed to make any electoral impact.
To make the country more business-friendly, the manifesto says it is committed to improving the country’s “Ease of Doing Business” ranking from 134 to 75 within five years.
To tackle the hot political issue of black money allegedly stashed away in foreign banks – an issue the BJP talks about dealing with through legislation if brought to power — the Congress manifesto has proposed appointing a “special envoy” to recover such money. The party’s manifesto for the 2009 election was silent on the issue.
Another new entrant into the manifesto is a promise to “enact a law to ensure that consensual sexual relations between adults of the same-sex are not criminalized”.
As reported by The Indian Express earlier this month, the Congress has laid out a “100-day agenda for growth” in what seems like an attempt to correct some of its biggest failures on the economic front.
Under this, it has committed to implement a series of measures within 100 days of forming the government including ensuring the enactment of the Goods and Services Tax bill by next year; announcing a detailed job agenda to create 10 crore new jobs for youth; returning to adhering to the FRBM Act to achieve fiscal deficit of 3 per cent of GDP; setting up a National Investment Facilitation Authority to identify delayed projects and resolve inter-ministerial issues and setting up a National Environmental Appraisal and Monitoring Authority to conduct “rigorous and time-bound environmental appraisals and recommend environmental clearances where appropriate in a time-bound and transparent manner”.
It also promises a “clear policy on tax treatment of foreign firms and M&A transactions”. UPA-2 has received much flak for its amendment to the Finance Act in the wake of the Vodafone tax case judgement and a clarification on the controversial retrospective tax provision has been long awaited.
For women, the Congress has reiterated its commitment to the enactment of the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament, while promising to ensure that “at least 25 per cent of total police officers, sub-inspectors and constables at every police station” are women in the next five years.
On the foreign policy front, the manifesto calls for “steady support to Palestine” and a continuance to supporting the “goodwill nurtured for decades amongst socialist countries”. It also talks about working with other countries to “prevail upon Sri Lanka to ensure a credible, objective, time-bound inquiry into allegations of human rights violations and excesses committed by the Sri Lankan forces”.
Other sections include “empowering Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes”, “safeguarding minorities”, “agriculture and farmer welfare”, “accelerating industrial and manufacturing growth”, “fighting corruption” and “governance reforms”.
The Congress has also committed to finding a way forward for introducing reservation in education and employment for economically weaker sections of all communities “without in any way affecting existing reservations for SC, ST and OBC”.
The Congress president said the last 10 years had seen a “tremendous economic change and social empowerment” under the UPA regime. She also said since it was not possible to include all suggestions in the manifesto, the party would release them through subsequent publications.
The Prime Minister called the manifesto a “forward looking document” and claimed the UPA government’s 10-year record had been far better than that of the NDA in every sphere.