It’s less than a week that the Grand Old Party of India — the Indian National Congress — has released its 2019 election manifesto to woo voters. If anything has triggered panic in the BJP’s camp from the Congress Party these days then it’s this 2019 manifesto. Starting with BJP’s blogger-in-chief Arun Jaitley, followed by his boss and everyone’s boss Prime Minister Narendra Modi, every leader of the BJP started exhibiting utmost panic, hysteria and verbal diarrhoea over the Congress Party’s manifesto without uttering a word clarifying why the BJP’s manifesto is prepared by cutting and pasting content from the 2014 manifesto, including the leitmotif promises like Ram Mandir, removal of Article 370 of the Constitution, abolishing Article 35(A) and implementation of a uniform civil code for the country (read a Hindu civil code for all).
The Congress Party’s 2019 manifesto doesn’t promise any revolutionary transformation of the Indian society but reiterates some of the clichés that the Grand Old Party has been reiterating for the last 70 years. The new things that the party talks about in the 2019 manifesto are:
- Minimum Income Support Programme or Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY): This programme promises a direct cash transfer of Rs 72,000 per annum to the target population of 50m families, who constitute 20% of Indian population, with around 200m members. The Congress Party claims that through this programme it will be able to generate demand for goods and services at the bottom of the pyramid and stimulate the somnolent economy. It claims that as the scheme is endorsed by reputed economists, it’s viable and will not increase any burden on the national economy.
- Jobs: Employment generation is one of the top promises of the Congress Party while the BJP is continuously living in vehement denial of the gargantuan unemployment issue. The Congress Party promised filling up 400,000 vacant Central Government positions by March 2020 and the filling of an additional 2m state government vacancies by liaisoning with respective states. The Congress Party also promises to bring forth policies that will generate employment opportunities through the private sector.
- Agriculture: The Congress Party promises to waive the outstanding debts of farmers and also promises to set the farmers on the path of “Karz Mukti” (freedom from debts) through “a combination of remunerative prices, lower input costs, and assured access to institutional credit”. It also promises that no criminal proceedings will take place against any farmer who fails to repay debts and there will be a special “Kisan Budget” to “ensure priority to the issues affecting the agriculture sector”.
- Secularism, rights and justice: The Congress Party’s 2019 manifesto promises an end to communal toxicity promoted by the government of the day. The manifesto talks about providing justice to the victims of communal riots, taking stern action against mob lynching, communal violence, and rioting. The manifesto also has a lot of promises for the Dalits, tribal people, Other Backward Castes (OBCs), women, LGBTQ community, etc. The Congress Party has a list of offers for all of them and promises equality, justice and growth to these people.
- Reviewing and omitting obsolete and draconian laws: The manifesto promises to omit the sedition law or Section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which the British colonial rulers introduced to suppress the people’s aspiration for freedom with brute force. Though Britain has abolished its sedition law a long time ago, India has been continuing with the colonial legacy to ensure that the dissenting voices within the country can be muffled by slapping the sedition charges. No one mastered the usage of sedition law like the BJP has, which has been exemplified in the random application of the law against the dissenters in the last five years. The Congress Party has also promised to review the draconian Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, which is strongly opposed by the people of Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, etc, wherever it has been imposed to allow a brutal military dictatorship. Though the party has not promised to abolish the undemocratic AFSPA, it’s promising a review without any concrete outcome. The manifesto promises to abolish police torture, make draconian laws sync with Constitutional values, without uttering a word against the draconian UAPA that its UPA II government enacted to suppress genuine people’s movement.
If politically-aware people review these promises, then they will be able to draw a conclusion that there is neither any revolutionary content in this manifesto nor is the Congress Party saying anything that will make truly a lot of difference to India.
The entire manifesto is a strong advocacy of the neo-liberal economic path as the only path to economically develop India and the Grand Old Party shows no signs of shifting from the World Bank and IMF-advocated path of liberalisation of economy and promotion of market supremacy. The Congress, apart from promoting the interests of a different set of crony-comprador capitalists than the BJP’s patrons like the both Reliance groups and the Adani Group, has no separate economic agenda for the Indian people. It will ruthlessly run the juggernaut of the neo-liberal economy over the common people and exploit them as the BJP does.
It talks about a new version of “Make in India” scheme of Modi, revising the GST to one standard rate and emphasises on the role of the private sector in creating jobs. The Congress Party didn’t promise an end to the corporate aggression on agricultural and forest land, rivers and natural resources. Rather, by promising a series of industrial towns, it’s giving a hint that the Congress-ruled government will promote the land acquisition and carry out the urbanisation exercise by bulldozing over the rural and semi-rural areas.
In such a circumstance, it’s okay for Modi to call the Congress Party’s manifesto a “Dhakosla Patra” (charter of lies); however, if the BJP and Modi are convinced that the entire manifesto is a charter of sheer lies and misinformation, then why are they worried about the Congress Party’s promise to omit the sedition law and the review the AFSPA? Why is the prime minister is in a pugnacious mode to defend these obsolete and anti-democratic laws that no civilised democratic nation should have in its book? If Modi and the BJP are certain that the Congress Party will not implement any of these promises, then why it’s combative regarding the sedition law annulment and review of the AFSPA proposal? If Modi and the BJP are, on the contrary, quite sure that the Congress Party will be seriously implementing all poll promises, then why they are calling the manifesto a charter of lies? The irony is that the BJP is egregiously trapped in its own propaganda and neither has the strength nor a plan to free itself from this embarrassment.
Jaitley, Modi and Shah, followed by other minions of the BJP, have all attacked the Congress Party and its manifesto over its promises regarding the scrapping of the sedition law and the proposed review of the AFSPA, however, none of them minced a word on the Grand Old Party’s tall promises of providing employment, direct cash transfer and uplifting the farmers from crisis. Very carefully and in a sly manner, the finance minister (who never talks about finance but everything else) and his bosses have evaded the economic issues addressed by the Congress Party’s manifesto. The reason behind this silence is the BJP’s compulsion to keep the economic crisis, created during its rule, in the back burner to avoid embarrassment.
Modi and his league have no answers regarding the severe unemployment issue; they have nothing to say on the economic crisis that got a shot-in-the-arm due to the demonetisation exercise done at the behest of the US government’s USAID organisation, and the disastrous rollout of the GST. Modi and his coterie aren’t talking about killing black money as they did in November and December 2016, when the destructive demonetisation drive started. The government isn’t in a mood to release any credible economic and employment data now, lest they affect its credibility and it’s constantly bringing new standards and rules to amplify and magnify its minuscule economic achievements vis-a-vis the Congress-led UPA regimes’ achievement.
In such a situation it’s quite unlikely to see the BJP talking about the issues that matter the most to the nation and its people, like the Congress Party’s manifesto has done at least for the sake of lip service, because Modi knows quite well, if the economy becomes the parameter to judge his government then the BJP will never have a chance to return back to power in the next 100 years, even though the non-resident Indian upper-caste Hindus can continue to chant his name in foreign shores out of their sheer Islamophobia. The BJP and Modi himself can combat the anti-incumbency tidal waves by playing the communal card — the Hindu card — and by spreading xenophobia.
The Congress Party and the opposition can be, therefore, linked with the imaginary enemies of the nation erected by the Sangh Parivar (so-called Tukde Tukde Gang) and its flatterer media houses, equated with Pakistan and Muslims (to appeal to the Islamophobic mindset of an average Indian upper-caste Hindu elite or middle class), shown as terrorism-sympathiser and Maoist supporter (quite an oxymoron to bracket the Congress Party and the banned Maoist party together, but then when did the Sangh Parivar cared for logic?) to ensure that a phobia is generated regarding the opposition forces among the crucial urban middle class block, which turns out in large numbers to vote and also influences the poor with their political views, and the BJP can exploit the situation to win a comfortable majority.
It’s obvious to the democratic and progressive forces that the Congress Party and the BJP are two faces of the same snake and both of them, along with their allies, are here to help big foreign capital, the crony-comprador Indian capitalists and big feudal landlords in their effort to plunder Indian resources and exploit its labour. Neither the Congress Party nor the BJP can change the fate of the Indian people, who must take their destiny in their own control and wage a struggle to free themselves from the yoke of the exploitative neo-liberal and comprador capitalistic, semi-colonial and semi-feudal condition. However, as the BJP continues to question the Congress on the issues of “national security”, it’s time that each voter ask the saffron party regarding its economic achievements and the unemployment issue.
Can the BJP answer the people why did Modi change the Rafale Jet purchase agreement to involve Anil Ambani’s novice organisation — Reliance Defence — in it by removing the public sector HAL? Can the BJP answer the public on the security implications of such a corrupt deal? Can the BJP answer the public why its government has been constantly pushing and promoting the business interests of the Reliance groups of both Ambani brothers and the Adani Group? Why the prime minister has remained elusive over the Rafale Jet deal? Why the Modi regime didn’t show any proof of its claim of killing terrorists and resorted to rhetorics when questioned over its so-called success in Balakote? Why the BJP wouldn’t take the responsibility of all the soldiers killed in action, including Pulwama, during the tenure of Modi?
The BJP has no answers to these questions regarding its own shady role regarding national security in the last five years. The BJP has no answers on the worsening unemployment situation. Neither Modi nor his sycophants have any answers regarding the immense farm crisis that’s pushing the farmers towards destitution. The BJP is absolutely tight-lipped on the question of its promises of economic development and it has actually dropped the usage of the term “Gujarat Model”, which was used to project Modi’s purported achievements in developing Gujarat during the 2014 Lok Sabha election, since assuming power. The total failure of the BJP in managing India’s economy is covered up by its Islamophobic hysteria, promotion of communal violence and mob lynchings throughout India. Thus, during this election, they have nothing credible to corner the Congress but only xenophobia over Pakistan, Islamophobia and communal polarisation to wean voters from the opposition camp.
Nabeel Anwer is a Delhi-based journalist who writes on issues related to the minority communities and marginalised people. His harsh criticism of the system got Facebook to censor him repeatedly.