Election manifestos of political parties are not known to be statements of political daring, or even of political imagination. They go through the routines of re-stating the obvious. The Congress’s manifesto for the upcoming general election, made public last week, seemed to make a welcome break with that pallid tradition. It appeared to capture that rare thing — a political party in motion, rethinking its old positions, as on AFSPA and the sedition law, and taking new ones, like on hate crime or a safety net for the poor. The BJP manifesto unveiled on Monday goes back to the rites of manifestos-as-usual. It reiterates the BJP’s stated positions on most subjects. Consistency is sometimes a good thing, and the BJP has had a good run at the polls at different levels in the last five years and therefore may arguably not feel the pressure to change, even as the Congress carries the burden of being the challenger. Yet, the BJP’s apparent refusal to reconsider its positions on important issues includes those on which the limits of its ideological certitudes have been bared in its five years in power at the Centre.
The underlining of immoveable ideological positions begins in the very first chapter in the manifesto titled “Nation first”, in which, after emphasising its “zero tolerance approach to terrorism”, the BJP talks of completing the National Register of Citizens process in Assam and of extending the NRC “in a phased manner” to “other parts of the country”, without showing any acknowledgement of the distortions intrinsic to the process that have come to light. It pledges itself anew to the dangerously misconceived Citizenship Amendment Bill which threatens to further polarise and communalise the complex matrix of identities and insecurities in the Northeast. This section ends with the BJP reiterating its position “since the time of the Jan Sangh” to the abrogation of Article 370 and to “annuling” Article 35A of the Constitution — both of these positions have only deepened the turmoil in the Valley in the last few years on the Modi government’s watch. Under the section called “Cultural heritage”, the party repeats its stand on the “expeditious” construction of the Ram mandir, and on Sabarimala, to secure “constitutional protection on issues related to faith and belief”.
On other issues, the BJP’s reiterations are welcome. It promises to double farmers’ income, and ease the burden on the middle classes. It promises investment of Rs 100 lakh crore in the infrastructure sector by 2024, pucca houses for all till 2022 and a Jal Jiwan Mission. In all, the BJP’s manifesto 2019 does not break new ground and promises continuity even in its promises of change.