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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 16-17, April 20, April 27, 2024

2024 Election Campaigns and Manifestos | P S Jayaramu

Saturday 20 April 2024, by P S Jayaramu


23rd April 2024

We are in the midst of campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls, the first phase of it began on the 19th. Although it is somewhat accepted that at lower levels the campaign rhetoric becomes personal with attacks on the very persona of adversaries, it is sad to see national leaders of Political Parties, including those who hold governmental positions—ministers, chief ministers and the prime minister—stooping very low in their campaign speeches against their political rivals. It is in deed sad that the Prime Minister seems to be revelling in attacking his primary adversary, the Congress Party and more so, Rahul Gandhi to no end. A Prime Minister, who has ruled with a great majority and is boosting of coming back to power with 370 seats for his own Party should not be going down to such levels. Rather, he should be talking about national issues like the mounting unemployment and price rise and how he would be addressing them if he returns to power. The fact that he doesn’t do so and concentrates his energy on running down the Congress Party, reveals that somewhere down the line he is probably either not sure of recapturing power or realises that he doesn’t have anything convincing to tell the people about solving their pressing problems.

The Prime Minister’s latest statement that if elected to power, the Congress Party would be gifting away peoples properties and gold to Muslims, shows the depths of negative campaigning. Earlier too, he described the Congress manifesto as ‘Muslim League’ manifesto. More seriously, he seems to be sowing seeds of hatred among the Hindus and the Muslims. Holding the responsible position of the Prime Minister Modi ji should have avoided making such statements, as they would not cut much ice with the average Hindu and Muslim voters who live in peace. That communal riots have not been taking place in contemporary India bear testimony to the harmony that prevails at the level of common people.

To be objective on this score, one should recall certain statements of Rahul Gandhi too in the recent past where he talked about the possibility of societal unrest ( BJP referred to it as Rahul talking of bloodbath) if the BJP was returned to power. Clearly, such statements too are unwarranted. In fact, both PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi are guilty of rousing public passions while the need is to rise above such temptations and conduct positive campaign.

This takes me to the manifestos of both the BJP and the Congress Party. Let me focus first on the BJP manifesto, called the ‘Sankalp Patra’. The manifesto was launched on April 14, on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti. The Prime Minister dedicated it to the four castes, he nowadays talks of: the youth, women, Poor and farmers, as if the BJP doesn’t factor in caste at all in ticket distribution as part of its electoral strategegy.

At the outset, it must be mentioned straightaway that the BJP manifestos can justifiably be described as Modi Manifesto, as every issue it touches upon is described as ‘Modi Ki Guarantee’. The manifesto is too generic in nature. On every issue, the manifesto talks of what will be done if the Party is voted back to power. Examples: (1)we will continue to increase MSP from time to time and we are committed to sustained financial support to farmers.(2) we will expand seamless access to social security benefits and other essential services to senior citizens.(3) we will ensure a review of National Floor Wages from time to time. (4) We will work towards elimination of mal-nutrition amongst tribal children to provide health services in a mission mode.(5) The term ‘ Viksit Bharat’ occupies a prominent space in the Party manifesto talking of making India a global manufacturing hub by 2030, with of course the usual references to bringing Uniform Civil Code, making One Nation One Election a reality etc.

Since the manifesto is generic terms, PM Modi should, in his campaign speeches, be talking in detail as to how his Party, if returned to power, would be implemening the various aspects of its Sankalp Patra.

The Congress Party’s Manifesto, described as ‘Nyay Patra’ was released much earlier, on the 4th of April. The manifesto states that the ‘Constitution of India shall remain its sole guide and companion in its never-ending journey. The focus is on saving Democracy and promising freedom from fear. It also highlights Equity and Social Justice, keeping in mind the need to ensure justice to religious and linguistic minorities, ensuring true practice of federalism and more specifically on the rights of the States in our federal system.

The manifesto reiterates its committment to the real implementation of the MGNREGA and the National Food Security Act of the UPA era. It also talks eloquently of its committment to Nation-wide caste census ( the idea failed to appeal to the electorate in the Assembly elections held late last year), reservation of 10 percent in education and jobs for the economically weaker sections.(EWS)

Among the guarantees the Congress manifesto refers to providing ₹1 lakh a year to the Apprentices with focus on imparting skills, filling up 30 lakh vacancies in sanctioned posts in central government and restructuring Start-Up Funding to promote self-employment. The manifesto has the ambitious idea of providing ₹1 lakh per year to the women of poor families under the ‘Mahalakshmi’ scheme, by identifying the families in the bottom of the income pyramid.

As regards the farmers, it underlines the Party’s committment to providing legal guarantees to the MSP, to be announced by the government every year as recommended by the Dr. Swaminathan Commission, besides appointing a Permanent Commission on agricultural finance and farm and farm-specific crop insurance.

It is in the fitness of things that during the remainder of the campaign phases, the Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi should not only highlight the various facets of the Party’s ‘NYAY Patra’, but explain to the electorate how they would raise resources to fulfil their promises.

By way of conclusion, it must be emphasised that both the BJP and the Congress leadership should raise the bar as regards the speeches they deliver as part of their campaigning.

(Author: Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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