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Poll Manifestos: A Look At The Pre-Election Promises

As the nation goes to polls and the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party unveil their election manifestos, Prabodh Krishna does a reality check on the pre-election pledges of the two largest political formations

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The Congress Party’s election manifesto promises a separate ‘Kisan Budget’ every year. The party promises to create a permanent National Commission on Agricultural Development and Planning. “Congress set our Kisans on the path to Karz Mukti, or freedom from indebtedness.  Debt is a civil liability and we will not allow criminal proceedings to be instituted against a farmer who is unable to pay his/her debt. The Congress manifesto promises to set up a permanent National Commission on Agricultural Development and Planning and to revamp the Fasal Bima Yojna,” the document says.

The BJP poll manifesto promises to “provide short term new agriculture loans up to Rs 1 lakh at 0% interest rate for 1-5 years on the condition of prompt repayment of the principal amount”. The loan is intended to double the income of farmers by 2022. The BJP wows to work toward digitising land records and to ensure adequate market avenues for farmers. It also promises pensions for marginal farmers.

Expert: Siraj Hussain, Former Secretary, Agriculture says, “The Congress manifesto looks impressive, as it tries to explore the mood swing due to the agrarian distress through its promises, but parties tend to forget promises once elected. The (promised) Rs 25 lakh crore investment is a welcome step, especially if it is devoted to agriculture.”

The Congress “pledges to give the highest priority to protecting existing jobs and creating new jobs”. To underscore the link between the growth of the industry and services sectors and rapid creation of jobs, the “Congress will create a new Ministry of Industry, Services and Employment”. The Congress pledges to make “jobs its no.1 priority, both in the public and private sector”. It promises to fill all the fourlakh central government vacancies before March 2020 and to persuade state governments to fill their 20 lakh vacancies. It plans to create an estimated 10 lakh new Seva Mitra positions in every Gram Panchayat and urban local body. The manifesto says businesses will be rewarded for job creation and employing more women. Firms with more than a hundred  employees will have to implement an apprenticeship programme.

The BJP has not categorised jobs as a separate subject in its manifesto. It focuses instead on skilling and creating sustainable job opportunities. “We will formulate a ‘National Policy for Reskilling and Upskilling’ to evolve a flexible and industry responsive workforce,” which the document says, would be “ capable of accessing new opportunities”.  

Expert: Abhijit Sen, Former Member, Planning Commission, says “Both the Congress and the BJP manifestos are not clear about the jobs part. The BJP talks about what has been already achieved, the Congress is also not clear about numbers. Both the manifestos sound more like promises.”

The Congress has promised to enact the Right to Healthcare Act and guarantee every citizen free diagnostics, out-patient care, free medicines and hospitalisation, through a network of public hospitals and enlisted private hospitals. The party says it will double expenditure on healthcare to three per cent of the GDP by 2023-24.
The BJP declares that it would “establish 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres under Ayushman Bharat, setting up 75 new medical colleges/ postgraduate medical colleges”.  It also vows to increase the doctor-population ratio to 1:1400, if elected back to power.

Expert: Siddhartha Bhattacharya, Secretary General, NATHEALTH says: “Apart from all the good things about greater emphasis on health, we should draw attention to the fact that India needs to allocate a higher public spend on health at 3x of what it does today.”

The Congress manifesto says when in power the party would transfer the NYAYA amount to women household accounts and reserve 33 per cent seats for women in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. It also proposes to effectively enforce the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and repeal provisions in several Acts that stop women from working in night shifts.

The BJP too commits itself to 33 per cent reservations in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. It also pledges to work towards increasing the rate of participation of the female workforce. The party promises justice for Muslim women by enacting the law against triple talaq.

Expert: Tara Krishnaswamy, an expert on women’s issues, says: “The BJP manifesto devotes a section to women’s empowerment, mostly consisting of a listing of existing government schemes.   The Congress manifesto on women lays out three approaches, to promise their overall participation in every sphere.”

The youth
The Congress has not categorised the “youth” as a group in its manifesto, but has made references to it when addressing issues like education and MGNREGA.  It has promised to double the allocation for education to six per cent of the GDP by 2023-24.  The party says it will offer 150 days of employment under NREGA against the present provison for 100 days. The party also promises to respect the autonomy of the Indian Olympic Association and the apex body of each sport. It says its government would work with each body to promote the sport concerned.  

The BJP too clubs the youth with education and promises to cover all secondary schools under Operation Digital Board. It proposes enabling investment worth Rs 1 lakh crore in higher education through Revitalising of Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE). The BJP also promises to create new opportunities of employment by providing more support to the 22 major ‘Champion Sectors’ identified as the main drivers of the Indian economy. “We will optimally leverage the untapped employment-generation potential of sectors such as defence and pharmaceuticals to take advantage of the opportunities available in domestic and foreign markets,” the manifesto says. The BJP focuses on entrepreneurship and startups and on connecting youth with society.

Expert: Sociologist Anand Kumar says, “The Congress manifesto is limited to jobs and education and does not present the youth as nation builders, while the BJP has to deliver on what they promised in the earlier manifesto”

The Congress says it will simplify the GST with one single moderate tax rate. The crux of its vision for industry is that “India must increase the share of manufacturing from the current level of 16 per cent to 25 per cent in a period of 05 years”. It pledges to remove the angel tax imposed on startups and to enact and enforce a comprehensive law on Doing Business in India that will incorporate the best business practices and rules. If elected to power, the Congress says it will endeavour to bring every Fortune 500 company to set up business in India. It also has a rehabilitation plan for MSMEs up its sleeve.

The BJP too makes a commitment  to work towards improving the manufacturing sector’s share of the GDP. It proposes to work towards doubling exports, establishment of a National Traders’ Welfare Board and creating a National Policy for Retail Trade for the growth of the  retail business. It’s promises for MSMEs include single window compliance and a dispute resolution mechanism.  

Expert: Ruchika Ranadive, Economist , CARE Ratings says, “These are pro-economy manifestos from both the leading parties. While the BJP is determined to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2025, the Congress have made employment and education a centre point of their manifesto, along with welfare of farmers.

In its manifesto, the Congress promises to enact the Direct Taxes Code in the first year of its government. It promises to usher in an era of simplicity, transparency, tax equity, easy compliance and impartial administration. Apart from its well-known promises on GST overhauling and its shared allocation to Panchayats and municipalities, the Congress also promises to abolish the e-way bill of the GST regime.

The BJP on the other hand, promises to set up a committee for Easing Citizens’ Interactions with Government (CECIG) to work with experts in reforming citizens’ interface with the government across domains, especially taxes. It also points out that the BJP-led government has already provided major tax reliefs in its last Budget, but was committed to further revise tax slabs and tax benefits to ensure that middle income families have more cash in hand and greater purchasing power.

Expert: Vijay Singhal, former Income Tax Commissioner of Mumbai, says “The Congress promises of the NYAY scheme is opium for the common man. It’s difficult to cover all the goods under a common GST slab. The BJP’s promise of tax reforms for the low-earning community is more practical and deliverable”.

NYAAY Vs Pension Scheme for Small shopkeepers and farmers:
While the Congress has talked of a NYAAYA scheme and giving Rs 72, 000 a year to the poorest 20 per cent households in India, the BJP talks of extending the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan scheme to cover small shopkeepers, along with pensions for marginal farmers.

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General Elections 2019 manifestos