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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 17 New Delhi April 13, 2019

Congress Poll Manifesto Analysed

Saturday 13 April 2019, by Barun Das Gupta

The Congress’ election manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, that was released on April 3, is a document that reaffirms the party’s core commitments, core concerns and core convictions. It seeks to correct the grave distortions that have taken place in our polity under the authoritarian regime of Narendra Modi during the past five years which were “disastrous for the people”.

What were the disasters? Youth lost jobs. Farmers lost hopes. Traders lost business. The MSMEs lost confidence. Women lost their sense of security. The deprived people lost their traditional rights. Institutions lost their independence. But the worst of all was that the people lost their faith in the words of the Prime Minister.

If returned to power, the Congress will ensure to the people freedom from fear, freedom to live, work, pray, eat, love and marry according to their wishes, freedom from poverty and the freedom to pursue their ambitions. The party has pledged to give the highest priority to protecting existing jobs and creating new ones. Over two million jobs lying vacant under the Union and State governments will be filled up in the next five years. A new Ministry of Employment will be created.

But the greatest emphasis is on the farm sector. Under the Minimum Income Guarantee Scheme Rs 72,000 per year will be directly transferred to the bank account of the 20 per cent poorest people. It will require Rs 3.6 lakh crores in the next five years, or 1.8 per cent of the GDP. Litigation for recovery of non-payment of farm loans will be civil and not criminal. The Congress will present a separate Kisan Budget along with the General Budget.

The other major promise of the Congress is about Kashmir. “Dialogue is the only way to understand the aspirations of the three regions of Jammu and Kashmir,” the manifesto says and talks of an “honourable solution” . It says it will try winning the hearts and minds of the people of Kashmir, appoint three interlocutors to interact with all the stakeholders in the State “without preconditions”, reduce the footprint of the armed forces and review the AFSPA, while giving more responsibility to the State Police.

There will be greater emphasis on job creation and toward that end medium, small and micro enterprises will be encouraged. The GST will be a flat single slab one. The autonomy of the RBI will be restored. In the field of foreign policy, a National Council on Foreign Policy will be set up. This is reminiscent of the Policy Planning Committee set up by Indira Gandhi under the chairmanship of G. Parthasarathi (senior).

The Congress is against strengthening the Centre at the cost of the States. To strengthen federalism, Congress has decided to transfer some subjects from the Concurrent to the State List in the Constitution.

This sums up the main features of the manifesto. About the economic promises, the party says they were included after elaborate discussion with economists at home and abroad. Mobilisation of resources to implement the electoral promises, it is claimed, will be no problem.

The Congress, if it is able to form a coalition government along with other like-minded parties on the basis of a common minimum programme, will face a number of problems. The first, of course, will be the huge problem of holding the coalition together, making it function as an organic unit and resolving the vaulting personal ambitions of the leaders of the coalition partners.

The second will be to put an end to crony capitalism that feeds on government patronage. Economic growth must be accompanied by creation of jobs. There should be no “jobless growth”.

Economic liberalism that started in the early 1990s has to be reined in. The state must play a more dominant role in the national economy. The Planning Commission should be revived and the NITI Aayog should be given a decent burial. Congress’ NYAY and the BJP’s NITI are two mutually exclusive ideas.

Even if the BJP fails to win a majority alone or with other constituents of the NDA, it will remain a powerful force and try to throw a spanner in the wheel whenever and wherever it can. It will oppose the implementation of the Congress programme at every step. The last half-a-decade has seen that the polarising politics of the Sangh Parivar has succeeded to a great extent. This reality has to be kept in mind. This is an ideological challenge and has to be combated ideologically and politically.

The Congress will face vehement opposition from the Sangh Parivar if it tries to open a new chapter in our relations with the people of Kashmir. The BJP’s policy has been to antagonise the Kashmiris more and more by treating the Kashmir problem as a law and order problem and not a political one. The result was giving unrestrained power to the security forces to suppress the Kashmiris, especially the rebellious youth. It resulted in the progressive alienation of the Kashmiris from India. Objectively, it only helped Pakistan to create disaffection among the people of Kashmir by turning more and more people against India.

The Congress will have to deal with the challenge of the RSS on a long-term basis.. The RSS was founded more than ninety years ago. During all these years, it has been building institutions, one after the other. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Viswa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the Akhil Bharatiya Adhyapak Parishad, the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram are some of the institutions the RSS has built. The RSS runs several thousand educational institutions in the country where, apart from imparting education, ideological brainwashing is done and students during their formative age are brought up on ideas of Hindutva.

Those parties and organisations which swear by secularism have done precious little to challenge the BJP in the ideological field. Whether the BJP wins an election or loses it, the RSS will go on working silently at the grassroots level, spreading its ideas and indoctrinating people, especially the younger generation. This is a major challenge to our secular and democratic polity. The Congress—and other parties and organisations who cherish the ideals of secularism—will have to build parallel institutions. The activists of these institutions should go on spreading the ideals of secularism, no matter which party wins or loses which election. This work has to be done painstakingly year after year and decade after decade with the same devotion and determination as the RSS pracharaks and vistaraks have been doing. This alone can be the effective challenge to Hindutvavad and Hindutvavadis. The Congress should have a clear idea about the imperatives of building parallel institutions to counter the pernicious ideology of Hindutva.

The success of the Congress as the ruling party in post-Independence India lay in its image as a Left-of-Centre party. It pursued a policy of “mixed economy” in which both public and private sectors co-existed side by side but the public sector was in control of the commanding heights of the economy. The Congress, during Narasimha Rao’s time, deviated from this principle and ushered in the era of LPG (Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation). The result was the gradual isolation of the Congress from the people, the growth of crony capitalism, incentive to investments that yielded profits to the investors but created very few jobs. This policy brought other distortions in the national economy as well. If the Congress has to renew its organic links with the people, it must go back to its Nehruvian moorings.

Depending on the outcome of the Lok Sabha election results and the number of seats the Congress actually wins, it will have to keep the constituents of the coalition under a strong leash. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister was too lenient and too good a person to keep the coalition partners in check. The result was unbridled corruption that harmed the image of the Congress much more than the image of the parties that indulged in corruption. The result was the BJP victory. A great responsibility devolves on Rahul Gandhi as the Congress President. If the Congress is able to form the government, Rahul will have to keep the coalition going, keep its image unsullied while shaping the Congress as an effective instrument for fighting communal fascism and authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism is ingrained in the BJP’s thinking. A recent article titled How Congress Hurts Freedom by Arun Jaitley, published in The Times of India of April 8, is an example of this. Jaitley attacks the Congress because in its election manifesto it has promised to bring a legislation to curb monopolies and to bar cross-media holdings of different segments of the media. Jaitley’s article is a classic example of hypocrisy and double-talk.

He criticises Indira Gandhi for passing legislations to curb press freedom. Jaitley does not want any law to regulate the monopoly hold of the powerful corporates on the media —print as well as electronic. Quite so. Indira Gandhi, the “authoritarian”, had to pass laws in Parliament to control the monopoly Press. Narendra Modi does not have to legislate. A mere telephone call from the PMO to the proprietor of any print or electronic media will be enough to make the latter shiver in his shoes. A law can be challenged in a court of law. When a mere verbal threat can achieve the same end, why go in for legislation?

About a dozen journalists including Harish Khare, the former editor of The Tribune, and Karan Thapar of “To the Point” fame, were removed from service without ceremony because they had offended the Great Leader. Two journalists of a well-known Hindi TV channel were dismissed because they had the temerity to expose that a live interaction between Modi and one of the beneficiaries of a government programme was a put-up show because the beneficiary was instructed what to say.

Arun Jaitley has, perhaps inadvertently, let the cat out of the bag when he wrote: “As a political activist, I hold the view that if some media organisations are opposed to my party’s viewpoint, they may constitute a minuscule share in the ocean of media available.” True indeed! Under the benign democracy that Narendra Modi has introduced, the number of media organisations opposing his party and government, indeed have “a minuscule share” in the ocean of media houses running either print or electronic media. It is a pity that no MP asked a question in any House of the outgoing Parliament as to how many people were booked by the police for writing something critical of the Prime Minister or daring to upload his cartoon in the social media. .

The Modi regime poses the biggest threat to the media—far bigger than what the print media suffered during the Emergency days (there was no electronic media then apart from DD). Recalling that period later, Lal Krishna Advani, as the Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the Morarji Desai Cabinet, had said that the media crawled when they were asked to bend. Today the media do not even crawl. They wait with trepidation when the whiplash will strike them in their bare back.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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