Manifesto of Congress: first movers’ advantage - April 04, 2019

The Congress released its 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto on 02/04/2019. Since then it has created a lot of debate in both the public sphere and the media. Many poll analysts have argued that today manifestos don’t play a role significant like it used to. However, releasing manifesto earlier also gives first mover advantage for the Congress party. Before the election, in the manifesto, the Congress’ party president has promised that if his party comes to power then they will give Rupees 72,000 per annum to the 20 percent of the poor families via Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) scheme. Further, this will be received by women who are the head of their families. With this NYAY announcement, Congress president Rahul Gandhi set the direction of the Congress’ election manifesto.

In the 2004 election, the rural employment promise of the Congress played a key role in the election campaign and brought back the Congress to power with a coalition at the center. Now through the NYAY, the Congress party is hoping to replicate the same thing.

Key Points in the Congress party manifesto

While releasing the manifesto Rahul Gandhi highlighted six prime motivations behind the manifesto. These are - Kaam, Daam, Shaan, Sushashan, Swabhimaan, Samman. The manifesto is also divided into these six parts and covers all the concern areas.

Jobs: since unemployment is the key issue in the election campaign, the Congress has cleverly prioritized it by placing it at the top of the manifesto. Assuring the fulfillment of the 4 lakh central government vacancies, the manifesto also clearly underlines that it will request the state government to fill up 20 lakh vacancies. This is in stark difference from the previous government which clearly promised to create 1 crore jobs for a year. PM Narendra Modi in his 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign also had promised to create 2 crore jobs within a year. This promise has become a major question which has currently come to haunt the BJP. The important point in the manifesto is that the Congress has not promised the creation of any particular number of jobs per year, rather they have promised a commitment towards the improvement of skills of workers and the youth, along with giving tax benefits to enterprises which create jobs. This is a clever step by Congress to not announce any overall number which can be held against them in the future. One interesting poll promise is the abolishment of application fees for jobs which is an important step because every year there are crores of youths who apply for various government jobs throughout the year and at the various levels. This announcement means economic relief for them.

National security: In the last 4 years, the debate on nationalism and national security has always remained in the public discussion. The Congress, in its manifesto, has promised that they will bring the National Security Council (NSC) and National Security Adviser (NSA) under the law of the land and their actions will be accountable to the parliament. This has come in the background of the overreaching approach of Ajit Doval whereby his actions and motivations have created controversy in the political circle. The promise to amend the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) is an important promise because it might help the Congress to regain its ground in the North East region. It’s important to note that within a day after the Congress’ manifesto announcement, AFSPA was removed from several parts of Arunachal Pradesh so that the prospects of the BJP does not take a dent in the election.

Everybody got something: The Congress, in its manifesto, has tried to cover the concerns of the marginalised section like the protection of the rights of LGBTQIA, restoration of reservation through the 200 point roster system in educational institutions, fulfillment of the SC/ST and OBC in vacancies in government and semi-government institutions. These groups were affected by the BJP policies like the removal of the 200 point roster system and the non-fulfillment of reservations in the government institutions. These groups mostly comprises of first-generation graduates and lower and middle-class people. In 2014, this section of the population had voted for Modi for two reasons- 1. Modi campaigned on the OBC card and 2. He promised development (Vikaas) and the creation of 2 crore jobs for the youths of the country. Thus, understanding the issue, Congress is now trying to tap the grievances of the youth through poll promises. The manifesto also covers many aspects which were long pending demands of the liberal sections of the country like changing of the defamation laws from being a criminal offence to a civil offence, repealing colonial laws like sedition which was invoked in the JNU episode making many educationists and social activist demand the scrapping of the law.

Stealing the thunder Till now, the BJP campaign has mostly focused on national security and religious polarization. BJP is trying hard to hide its failures on the creation of employment and rural distress by trying to shift the focus of the country to national security which has emerged as their primary election weapon and campaign strategy. They have created a sort of a trap around the issue, in which the opposition, so far, has avoided falling into. After a long time, the Congress has set an agenda by releasing its election manifesto. It has currently become the most debated topic. Also, currently it’s the BJP who has come to respond to the agenda set by the Congress. The BJP is unable to come up with the political critique of the Congress’ manifesto. The Finance Minister come up with a rather comical critic by calling this manifesto drafted by the ‘tukde-tukde’ gang which only has further brought out their frustration in trying to drag the entire issue into the “National security” debate.

The Congress manifesto has its flaws and problems but overall, to counter the BJP government, this manifesto might give an advantage to the Congress by creating debates in TV studios and urban places. The manifesto, perhaps, might not help the Congress to increase is election tally from less than 50 to 100 plus seats, but the Congress, for the time being, has stolen the thunder of Narendra Modi, by at least once setting up an agenda to discuss.

- Dr. V. Lenin Kumar