The grand old party of India has released its manifesto for the General Elections 2019. For the first time, in recent years, Congress Party has really come out with ideas which reflect that it is serious and has learnt its lessons from the jolt that it received in 2014.
The fact that the Narendra Modi government is rattled with this manifesto of the Congress party is very much visible when their chums in the media are picking up issues and making them bigger. The major issue the Modi Bhakt Sanghi media has picked up for discussions are on Armed Forces Special Power Act and the repealing the Sedition Laws which has become the biggest handle for the Sangh Parivar elements to target their opponents. In fact, the bhakt channels have gone on record that this manifesto is designed to help the ‘tukde tukde gang’, as they usually call all those who talk of peace and strengthening democracy and socialism in the country.
Congress Party might have been in power for more than 50 years of our independence and we have seen its poll promises which were rarely fulfilled, but things have drastically changed since 2014 when the Narendra Modi led National Democratic Alliance decimated Congress Party in the elections. The route of Congress and possible extinction gave its leaders lots of ideas to think about, and for that one needs to compliment Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, for believing in democratising the party and providing space to diverse sections of people in the decision making bodies. We see that many young dynamic social movement leaders are now part of Congress Party. Even for discussing the Manifesto for the party, the leadership actually started preparation over a year ago and engaged with very large number of people including intellectuals, activists, civil society leaders and came out with great ideas which if truly implemented can change the face of India.
Why are we ready to believe Congress this time? I think the reason for that is the sincere efforts Rahul Gandhi made to reach out diverse sections of people. No political party has carried out such gigantic task in speaking to multiple communities as Congress has done this time and the manifesto is not merely a document for poll but could be just the vision document of the UPA government if comes to power.
The major points of the Congress manifesto are Nyay which suggest that the 20% poorest families of India will get a minimum Income of Rs 72,000 per year. The Congress has made it clear that they came to this conclusion after lots of discussions with economists like Thomas Piketty, Raghuram Rajan, former RBI governor. P.Chidambaram, former Finance Minister, was the head of the manifesto committee. We all know that in a diverse country like India things cannot happen in black and white as well as overnight. The Congress, which started the globalisation and liberalization in India, now realize that there need to be a balanced approach and that is where the party committed to strengthening the Forest Rights Act and its implementation. The issues of Dalits and Adivasis are important and for the first time, we saw a very unambiguous approach in Congress Party’s manifesto.
One major announcement that Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi has been making was the filling of twenty two lakhs vacancies that lies with the government. It will pave the way for huge backlog being filled and opportunity for the Dalits and marginalized sections of our society. The promise to fill 10 lakh vacancies at the nyay panchayat levels is also important and will help. The MNREGA days are being extended to 150 as well as declaration of a separate ministry for farmers are important. It is also welcome step to suggest that inability to pay farm loans should not go to criminal trial but in civil courts which most of our corrupt industrialists enjoy. None of them have been termed as criminals but a poor marginal farmer, for his inability to pay a meagre loan becomes criminal.
To encourage the new entrepreneurs to start business without any permission for first three years, is also a welcome sign. Equally important is a decision for National Judicial Council or Commission which if implemented will pave the way for inclusion of Dalits, adivasis and OBCs in the higher judiciary where they remain excluded so far.
The commitment to invest 6% of GDP on education is huge and the best part of this manifesto. Political parties in India have not given importance to the issue of quality education and education for all. Under the current government, education was the biggest casualty. Not only the minds of innocent young were being filled with poison but also all the prestigious institutions such as JNU, HCU, IITs, IIMs, IGNCA, were virtually destroyed and filled with absolutely non-academic propagandists of the RSS.
The emphasis on health along with women safety is equally important and addresses the needs and aspirations of our vast segment which is not catered so far. We need universalization of health along with education. India can learn a lot from United Kingdom’s National Health Services, a brilliant pro-people service not based on Insurance but strengthening the public health through creating better public sector health centres at districts and state levels. Why can’t we improve our PHCs?
The commitments to Women’s Reservation Bill as well as reservation for women in jobs are categorical and hope will be done when the government comes to power. The promise to bring a bill against mob lynching is a welcome step but we need to focus on Communal and Caste violence Bill and ensure that responsibility for that is fixed on the civic and police officials. Any politician engaged in any kind of communal or caste violence must be barred from contesting elections. Congress needs to focus on that too.
The Congress manifesto is refreshingly returning to idea of India but it is not possible if Party does not commit itself to Nehruvian principles of inclusion and secular values. Somewhere, party leaders are unable to accept that and not aggressive on the issue of inclusion of minorities. There is no reference to the division created by BJP and Hindutva forces in the minds and hearts of minorities in India, whether Muslims or Christians. We can understand that the Congress is restraining itself from openly speaking about minorities for the fear of BJP’s propaganda but nobody is asking Congress to give to minorities by snatching the rights of the Hindus. The minorities deserve mention and talking about their rights is not appeasement. That shows lack of political leaders and their understanding about the issue. I am sure a leader like Jawaharlal Nehru would have stood today and told the people that without Muslims and Christians, there cannot be an idea of India. There is a need for the party to provide proportional representation to all segments of our people including minorities and Dalits, adivasis in its power structure. The congress need to come out of the brahmanical coterie as that would not sustain the party in the long term and must work not only on decentralization but on democratization of the party at every level and put the condition of strong secular socialist ideals that Nehru pursued all his life.
We know well that these omissions are not done purposefully but deliberately and we know well that there is no Nehru today. We don’t have leaders of that strength; still we hope that the choice before people is clear now. With the manifesto, Rahul Gandhi has put the issues of people back on the public domain which Narendra Modi and BJP were trying to avoid. In the Post Balakot, many in the media continue to want to create the Hindu Muslim narrative which suits the BJP well. That way, Rahul Gandhi and Congress party has played very well so far and not fallen into the trap of the Hindutva forces. So far people have reacted very well to this manifesto. Only the BJP leaders are condemning it and doubting its intentions. It is the same people who never doubted or questioned Narendra Modi about his fifteen lakh rupees announcement. Fact is, most of the economic schemes that Congress manifesto speak of, are implementable and will bring back the economy on the track.
(Published on 8th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 15)