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INDIA POLLS: Parties pin their hopes on election manifestos

Publication Date : 16-04-2014


When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released its election manifesto last week, it was accused of stealing portions from the Congress poll document released just a fortnight earlier.

"They copied our manifesto," Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi told hundreds of supporters at a rally.

The Hindu nationalist party, known for its tilt towards traders and the middle class, and Congress, a left-of- centre party with socialist leanings known for its pro-poor policies, have little in common.

But both have made similar promises in their manifestos that focus on job creation, developing the manufacturing sector to push economic growth, simplifying tax rules with a goods and services tax, and building 100 new cities as they sought to reach out to India's 814 million voters.

In fact, the Congress' complaint about portions of its manifesto being copied could have been against other parties as well.

Every election season, India's six national and multiple regional parties release their manifestos to reach out to specific groups and give voters a glimpse of their views on key issues.

This time, almost all parties have given more than the usual focus on economic policies as the country faces slowing growth, high inflation and increasing prices of fruit and vegetables.

Along with BJP and Congress, the newly minted anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the southern All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party (AIADMK) have set job creation as a main economic goal.

Both Congress and the Bihar- based Janata Dal (United) talk about job quotas for the underprivileged and socially disadvantaged.

There are also some similarities beyond the economic sphere: Both Congress and the Samajwadi party have promised to introduce a Bill against communal violence.

Some differences emerge on foreign policy, which took up a page in both BJP and Congress' documents, compared to the economy which had seven pages devoted to it in BJP's 42-page document and eight pages in Congress' 48-page manifesto.

While Congress has vowed to continue its existing foreign policy, BJP has indicated a more assertive approach, even promising a review and update of India's nuclear doctrine, and to develop infrastructure along the disputed border with China in Arunachal Pradesh state.

BJP leader Rajnath Singh, however, has since clarified that the party would not change the "no first use" policy of India's nuclear doctrine, which was adopted after the last BJP-led government carried out a series of nuclear tests in 1998, in its review of the policy.

While the manifestos were released with much fanfare, for voters used to instant news, however, the documents do not make for a compelling read.

"I haven't read any manifesto but I have read the news reports on them. Will they carry out all that they promise? It's doubtful," said 60-year-old Ajit Sinha.
Analysts say manifestos are no longer a key campaigning tool.

"The manifesto is an idealistic document but it is a tradition every election season. No general person ever reads it and people know it has no meaning. Many promises are made but not fulfilled," said Uttar Pradesh-based political analyst Sudhir Panwar.

But parties insist they have taken steps to create a manifesto in touch with the reality.

BJP used crowd-sourcing for ideas while Congress' vice-president Rahul Gandhi, party leaders say, held a series of meetings, including one with porters at a railway station, over six months for inputs for its poll document.

BJP member GVL Narasimha Rao, also a psephologist, agrees with analysts who say the manifesto is not a key part of campaigning. But he argues that "it does tell people what the agenda of governance is going to be".

"It is the credibility of the leadership, leader and party which matters more," he said.


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