March 30, 2014

Congress Manifesto: A Rehash of Its Earlier Unfulfilled Promises

THE Congress party, with great fanfare, has released its manifesto for the 2014 general elections. Readers will recall that amongst the six national parties, it was the CPI(M) that first released its manifesto to the Indian electorate on March 20, 2014. The Congress manifesto, the country is being told, has been prepared on the basis of a “unique exercise” which is a “reflection of the voice of the people of India”. The manifesto opens with a claim “The open Manifesto Process: Pathbreaking Political Reform”. Apart from hailing it as a political reform, the Congress party claims to have “pioneered an entirely new way in which political party election manifestoes are prepared”. Clearly, the Congress party is finding it novel to interact with the people and to condescend to hear their aspirations. As far as the CPI(M) is concerned (which may be true of some other parties as well), its manifestoes are always drawn up on the basis of the feedback the Party receives from its mass organisations and the continuous widespread interactions with all sections of our people. This is how it ought to be in a democracy and only those who are being newly exposed to the democratic processes may find this unique. Releasing the manifesto, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said that in India there is only one model, “the Congress model, growth with equality”. If anything, the last ten years under his prime ministership, India has seen the sharpest widening of economic inequalities and the cementing of the process of the creation of two Indias that was begun under the A B Vajpayee NDA government (1998-2004). The same day the Congress party released its manifesto, the CPI(M) released one of its election propaganda pamphlets – The Two India Reality : Obscene Wealth – Grinding Poverty (elsewhere in this issue, we carry a report). Clearly, the Congress party’s “Unique Process” resulted in mostly hearing people complain about unfulfilled promises made to them ten years ago and repeated five years ago. This is clear when this manifesto is read properly. There is a degree of self admission in the concluding section of the Congress manifesto – “An Appeal” – when it says “For the Indian National Congress, a manifesto is more than a catalogue of promises and pledges to be forgotten after elections are over”. This becomes further clear by the pledges contained in the manifesto. For instance, the manifesto says, “We will continue to take firm action to control inflation even in a difficult economic scenario”. When the UPA-2 took over, in the first speech to the joint session of the parliament by the then president, the country was promised that inflation would be controlled in the first hundred days. A hundred days have passed over 18 times since then! Backbreaking rise in the prices of all essential commodities continues pushing millions of people additionally below the poverty line. Its “15 point agenda for socio-economic and political transformation” contains many such assurances which have been repeated ad nauseum in the past. Therefore, we read once again a pledge, “We will ensure the passage of the women’s reservation bill”. Haven’t you heard this before? Like controlling inflation, the country was promised reservation for women in the first hundred days of the UPA-2I government! Likewise, there is a promise of spending 3 per cent of the GDP for public health. “Raise public spending on health to at least 2-3% of GDP over next five years with focus on primary health care”. No. This is not a quotation from the 2014 Congress manifesto. This is a quotation from the 2004 National Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the UPA-1 government. In 2013-14 budget, the union government spent according to revised estimates a ridiculously low amount of 0.03 per cent of GDP on public health! The manifesto speaks of “special incentives will be given to Anganwadi workers”. This is a criminal travesty of truth. Despite several promises, lakhs of Anganwadi workers across the country, women who take care of the pre-school child – nourishing the growth of India’s future – are not even treated as government employees (like all others in “schemes” not rights, like mid-day meals, ASHA etc), they do not even receive a regular salary, leave alone any other benefits, but are paid a `stipend’ for the crucial work that they do. This has been continuing during the last decade despite several assurances by the UPA governments to the contrary. Similar promises are made like greater allocations for education. The 2004 CMP said, “Public spending in education to be raised to at least 6% of GDP in a phased manner”. Promises are yet again being repeated only to be “forgotten after elections are over”. In the fiscal year 2013-14, budget documents show that the central government spent a measly 0.69 per cent of the GDP on education. Likewise, 2014 Congress manifesto makes bombastic claims on economic growth. It speaks of “making India a world leader in agricultural production and agro-industry”. Further, of “increasing investments in irrigation” etc etc. The 2013-14 budget had spent a mere 1.5 per cent of our GDP on all activities connected with the agricultural sector. So much for the promises, pledges and the manifesto. However, on the score of the relentless pursuit of the neo-liberal policies of economic reforms which has already resulted in the creation of two Indias – enriching the rich and impoverishing the poor – the manifesto eloquently speaks of carrying forward the process of creating greater facilities for the loot of our country’s material and human resources for profit maximisation. It says, “We will promote greater integration with the global economy and encourage foreign direct investment, especially in labour intensive sectors”. Therefore, whatever little employment generation is there in the country will also be henceforth put at the disposal of foreign capital leading to greater growth of the already vast mass of unemployed in the country. It speaks of public-private-partnership as the major vehicle “for both hard and soft infrastructure development”. The country is, therefore, being promised more of `crony capitalism’ and large-scale corruption feeding `sweet heart deals’. In what must forewarn the working class of our country of greater assaults on their livelihood, the manifesto says, “We will promote a more flexible labour policy …”. In short, the economic blueprint contained in the Congress manifesto is an unfiltered taking forward of the process of economic reforms which has already created the growing divide between two Indias in our country by heaping further miseries on the working people while increasing the luminosity of `Shining India’. This is also endorsed by promises such as “fiscal consolidation” and “keeping the fiscal deficit below 3 per cent of the GDP”. This means a further drastic cut in the already meager subsidies for the poor rather than slashing concessions for the rich which are promised to increase further in the name of “incentives”. In sum, the Congress manifesto is a rehash of its earlier unfulfilled promises. Its fate is, hence, destined to remain unrealised. The people of India, thus, are once again being promised the imposition of continuous additional burdens on their livelihood conditions compounding the existing miseries. As we have noted in this column earlier, on the score of economic policies, the BJP’s outlook is no different. Hence, once again, the point is being driven home: The people can get relief only by the pursuit of alternative economic policies by a political combination which necessarily has to be an alternative to both the Congress and the BJP in policy terms. (March 26, 2014)