The BJP’s manifesto was released with almost no fanfare on April 8, 2019. The modesty was unnatural for the BJP! The BJP had much to be modest about. As one Tamil wit put it, the BJP’s manifesto was taking the idlis left over from breakfast and making them into upma for dinner!
There is a saying that the proof of the pudding lies in the taste. The Congress manifesto is, after 12 days of its release, the talk of the town. Prime Minister Modi cannot complete a speech without referring to one or other aspect of the Congress manifesto. He refuses to read, he refuses to be instructed, and he is not shy of uttering falsehoods. I wish someone in the BJP has the courage to make the Prime Minister read the Congress manifesto or at least my essay last week (April 7).
The BJP’s manifesto ceased to be a talking point a day after its release. The translation errors and the typos can be ignored, but how can one ignore the vein of arrogance that runs through the document?
Let me list the boasts:
* 50 crore Indians got health insurance thanks to Ayushman Bharat (Fact: Ayushman Bharat covers only hospitalisation and only 10,59,693 beneficiaries have been hospitalised and treated under the scheme till February 4, 2019).
* More than 40 crore people in the unorganised sector can now avail (sic) pension coverage (Fact: Only 28,86,659 persons have enrolled under the scheme. The first payout will begin in 2039. Nobody will get any benefit now or in the near future).
* Now we are close to 99 per cent sanitation coverage (Fact: There is a mass of evidence that a large number of toilets that were hastily constructed are unused [habit] or unusable [lack of water]. Besides, ask Mr Bezwada Wilson and he will tell you that the scheme is designed to perpetuate septic tanks and manual scavenging).
* It is now possible for youngsters from smaller towns to become entrepreneurs thanks to Mudra Yojana (Fact: The average size of the Mudra loan is Rs 47,575 and it would be a major miracle if that loan can create even one job).
* The Northeast is now closer to the national mainstream in more ways than one (Fact: The National Register of Citizens exercise and the Citizenship [Amendment] Bill are tearing apart the North Eastern states and there is more distance from the rest of India and more distrust today than ever before).
* Demonetisation, GST……are some of the historic achievements of our government (Fact: Demonetisation devastated the Indian economy and a flawed GST ruined trade and business, especially the MSMEs).
Person-specific vs People-sourced
Those examples are enough. Let us look at the manifesto-making process.
Mr Rajnath Singh, who chaired the Manifesto Committee, claimed that they had connected (sic) crores of people and the document was inspired by the ‘will of the people’. That claim was exposed in the last paragraph of the introduction which said ‘The above summary is based on the vision of Prime Minister Modi’. Therein lies the difference between the Congress manifesto and the BJP’s manifesto and the difference becomes stark as we go through the promises of the two parties.
Take national security and internal security. The BJP has offered strengthening of the Armed Forces and indigenous production of defence equipment. Every government has done that and will do so in the future. Beyond that, there is not a word about the National Security Council or the National Security Advisory Board or the National Counter-terrorism Centre (NCTC) or NATGRID. There is no mention of data security, cyber security, financial security, communication security or security of trade routes.
Take agriculture. The BJP has repeated the unfulfilled promise to double farmers’ incomes, but there is no roadmap towards that goal. The Congress has promised bold measures such as repeal of the APMC Act, establishing farmers’ markets, and making trade in agricultural produce, including exports and inter-state trade, free from all restrictions.
Take school education. The BJP has promised more of the same — emphasis on quality, smart classrooms and more Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas. The Congress has promised to transfer school education to the State List, implement the Right to Education Act, increase the allocation for education to 6 per cent of the GDP and include compulsory vocational training in Classes IX to XII.
A Math Puzzle
The main reason for the difference that runs through all the pages of the two manifestos is the difference between a Modi-centric approach and a people-sourced approach. The BJP’s manifesto is limited by Mr Modi’s knowledge and his unwillingness to listen to wise men and women.
Let me conclude with a math puzzle. The BJP attacked the Congress’s promise of NYAY and said spending Rs 3.6 lakh crore a year when the programme is fully rolled out to cover 5 crore families will not be feasible and will be fiscally irresponsible. Yet, the BJP confidently claims that it will invest (in 5 years) Rs 25 lakh crore in the agri-rural sector and Rs 100 lakh crore in the infrastructure sector. Rs 25 lakh crore + Rs 100 lakh crore = Rs 125 lakh crore divided by 5 years is Rs 25 lakh crore a year. Which is bigger, Rs 3.6 lakh crore or Rs 25 lakh crore per year?