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Time For Two Manifestos?

Are our political parties willing to take the bull by the horn?

Photo Credit : PTI


In his famous speech that inspired hundreds of thousands, Martin Luther King Jr., said, “I have a dream.” He said it with emotion, with conviction and with purpose. He did not say, “I have a strategic plan.” If he had, it probably would not have moved people in the same way. Manifestos however cannot be dreams but are strategized plans that can be implemented. Manifestos are used by political parties, clubs, organizations and individuals to create action. It is a public declaration or statement of ideas and intentions. Some outrageous ideas and convoluted intentions have been bandied in the past by almost all parties as actionable, but most of the manifestos have been a rehash of some very common sedentary actions. To be serious, is it time they also came up with implementable timelines for every actionable item?

High stake elections are round the corner in some important States and also at the Centre that can make or break the political careers of many a politician, resurrect the flagging careers of some and also throw up new kids on the block. Big Data Analytics used by all major parties would certainly provide many pointers. However simple worldly electoral wisdom with nose firmly ground would do the trick in winning many a battle. 

Manifestos provide a compendium of valid Party positions, streamline the campaign, and are used as campaign material. The stylized version of Party democracy puts great emphasis on parties' policy programs as structuring the campaign, voters' choices, Party coalition building, and government policy. Parties then fight elections rallying behind a manifesto, laying down policy priorities and positions, and a team of leaders committed to them. The victorious Party takes government office and implements its policy program. However, .in cases of coalition cabinets, government policy is expected to be some kind of compromise based on the policy programs of the participating parties. Very soon, voters will not only judge parties according to their policy programs for the next term in office, but also retrospectively, focussing on the government's performance and scrutinizing if the parties have kept their promises.

An intelligent manifesto must, have a meaningful concept, create inspiration, be concise, build consensus, create a community and spark a connection. This calls for a larger public good, completely devoid of parochial or contrived political interests. Do we have political parties today who can walk the talk?

What then is an ideal Manifesto in the coming elections? In these days of religious fervour being driven to a frenzy, can a religious twist do the talking? Can an ideological spin do the trick? Can lofty statements of delivery sway the people? Can global worries be passed off as local irritants? Can local worries be pushed back on legacy syndrome? All these and many more will certainly cook many a political broth. 

When every Party is in an overdrive to be on the right side of the Gods, should a manifesto build temples, Mosques, Churches, Synagogues or even Fire temples so to say, just to be on everyone’s side? Where does job creation, Jobs for everyone, Development, Defence, Infrastructure and farmer crisis figure? What is the value proposition of these in an emotionally charged environment? The truth however is that people seek religious solace only when basics are met. Getting down to brass tacks, a manifesto must dwell on people and the last mile. The last mile voters queer and swing the game for the parties. Not the so called intelligentsia. 

For one, education as a manifesto flag bearer, must be linked to employment generation. New markets must be created for the traditional ones are saturated and grow nominally.We need to develop a long-term skills strategy, encouraging people to study part-time to top up their skills, and to support that study with innovative financial structures such as personal learning accounts. There has been a serious drop in the number of part-time and mature learners, and that represents a tragedy of lost opportunity for tens of thousands of would-be students. We cannot allow lifelong learning to become a convenient buzz phrase to capture vague political aspirations. I would challenge politicians of all parties to make a meaningful commitment to continuous adult education. Skills must be institutionalised in our schools. The funding in higher education has been going down over the years. There must be a commitment to increase base-rate funding per student to at least match inflationary costs. The unholy race with global Institutes to publish research papers must be discouraged. Instead, the Higher education Institutes must be funded on their initiatives of new job creation and their ability to add to the wealth of the Nation and raising GDP.

Every Km new highway built must build a concept of highway angels which not only mitigate the agony for accident victims but creates at least 10 new jobs. A new scheme must be explored where an employer may be incentivised for every 100 additional jobs that he creates in terms of handsome tax rebates. The loss of revenue can always be compensated by a larger tax base. A conscious effort must be made to raise the boundaries of the organised sector. 

Political parties must be bold enough to curb the dole culture. Every citizen must earn his or her bread and the manifesto must provide the tools to do so. 95% of the riches are with 2% of the people. A manifesto must be honest enough to change this arithmetic not by robbing Peter to pay Paul but by more equitable tax structures. Social Bonds explored to meet these contingencies must replace the so called loans. A concept of Social Corpus must be created to bring a little cheer to the most deprived. 

It is necessary that order is brought into our overburdened and over working support systems, be it our Courts, our Police, our Intelligence Agencies or our Banking Systems. The Manifestos must protect the Autonomy proactively so that the Justice dispensing systems are not derailed. 

Our farmers have been at loggerheads, for long with the powers that be. Waiving of loans can at best be a short term means of placating but is never viable. Hence can a manifesto now talk about actively engaging farmers through a farmer card that tracks his life style and alerts the support systems nearby? This must include wellbeing of his entire family. 

The banking systems need a complete overhaul. Are our Political parties willing to take the bull by the horn? The mighty may fall on a sustained effort. Instead of trading charges as to who created the NPA’s can their manifestos actually create and strengthen Lok Adalats, Debt recovery Tribunals, Asset Recovery Agencies, Corporate Debt Restructuring Processes and Asset Management Companies? 

There is a huge disconnect between the State and the Central implementation mechanisms for the schemes that are floated, whether they are for welfare or they are for disbursing salaries. Can a manifesto commit to similar implementation at least in States, where the same Party is in power? Several welfare schemes like in Health care or Housing tend to be red herrings falling flat on implementation. Can these be quantified to be realistic? 

In a Country where adrenalin can rise on emotions that have nothing to do with Roti, Kapda aur Makaan, is it time that Parties must be forced to declare two Manifestos? One “Religious” and the other on “Action and welfare”. Like it is said, “Doodh ka Doodh aur Paani ka Paani ho jayega”. Can we sue Political Parties for reneging on their manifesto? Can they be disqualified for one session if it is proved so? Political Parties also must be made accountable to what is preached, albeit by a manifesto.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Dr. S.S. Mantha

Former Chairman of AICTE, Dr. Mantha is an eminent academician. At present, he is Chancellor KL University and Adjunct Professor, NIAS, Bangalore.

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