BJP’s manifesto 2014 is not the sharp, aggressive statement of a challenger.
By delaying its manifesto till voting day, the BJP had drawn more attention to the document than might otherwise have come its way. Would it make a significant break with the past, as power shifts to a new leadership? Would it voice a distinctive economic or social vision? But here it is, making familiar prescriptions, avoiding bold policy directions, trying to keep the flock together while also trying to placate every constituency.
While this may be the nature of any political manifesto in India, the BJP’s document is still remarkable for its blandness. This is not the rousing appeal of a challenger — it is the vision of an establishment party, one that shares more with the ruling UPA than either formation would like to acknowledge. From freight corridors and new cities to rural broadband, from affordable housing to public health benefits, there is little in the BJP’s manifesto that has not already been said, or even done, before.
But this is no surprise. In their economic instincts, sections of the BJP and Congress are similar, though they may diverge in practice. Both claim to value growth, but often repudiate what it demands. The BJP’s manifesto supports food security, a highly distorting intervention that pretends to serve a need that has already been met in most part. It has also stopped short of advocating FDI in multibrand retail, a change it has previously endorsed but resisted bitterly when the UPA pushed it.
For all the talk about Narendra Modi casting himself in Margaret Thatcher’s mould, the BJP is clearly reluctant to spell out labour reform or disinvestment in any detail. It could have used the opportunity that opposition provides, to articulate the principles of free-market economics, to put strong growth first, and to argue with the povertarian assumptions of the UPA. It is conspicuously vague on foreign policy orientation. It has also chosen not to foreground the shibboleths on temples and cows, uniform civil code and the like.
There are small shifts in emphasis. The BJP has promised greater focus on federalism, and making sure “Team India” is as much about its chief ministers as its prime minister — though with Modi at the helm, that promise will be tracked carefully.
It has spoken of port-led development, made a mention of MOOCS. But the Modi touch can be sensed only through the alliteration and buzzwords — the manifesto accuses the UPA of taking away the “genuineness from governance, authenticity from administration”, says India is at the cusp of “democracy, demography and demand”, and has sprinklings of four Ps and four Fs. Overall, this is a document that oozes caution. A BJP government, if it should be voted in, will hopefully have more personality than its manifesto.