By Aditya Aamir
Is the Bharatiya Janata Party playing safe by calling its ‘Goshna Patra’ – which by definition every political party manifesto released before an election is – ‘Sankalp Patra’? Are Narendra Modi and Amit Shah trying to bluff the people into playing another game of dice, heads you lose, tails we win? ‘Goshna’ or Sankalp, what’s common to 2014 and 2019 manifestos is both are a montage of promises. Line them up side by side and you’ll stumble on promises made and promise not kept; promises now made with a question mark.
Will they be kept if Modi gets a second term is what strikes the mind? Will the promise to ‘double farmers’ income’ in one year and build houses for all by 2020, will they be kept? Modi and Shah have 2014’s manifesto hanging round their necks. That is the problem. ABP TV journalist Milind Khandekar, who had to leave the TV channel allegedly because of pressure from the Centre, tweeted that the 2014 BJP manifesto made 346 promises, out of which Modi fulfilled 117, partially fulfilled 190 and did nothing on 39. He took the figures from bbc.com/hindi/resource.
The solemnness of the manifesto release function – Modi sitting like he had lost his goat, Sushma Swaraj as if she had been forced to attend; Arun Jaitley as if reluctant to come in the first place – added to the feeling of promises failed. There was no joy; no cheer, hardly anything to tell children at home. The Prime Minister tried to inject a little hope, though. He said this was probably the first manifesto released by a government “that will continue to remain in power.”
The manifesto was of course a counter to the Congress party’s ‘Nyay’ manifesto – Rs 6000 per month to the poor. The BJP manifesto promised to spend Rs 25 lakh crore on the development of rural areas. Modi said a pension scheme would be introduced for small and marginal farmers. That would be over and above the Rs 6000 annual support that comes with ‘PM Kisan Yojana’. But, like with Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Nyay’, are these “doable”? Modi said his next government’s aim is to bring poverty down to a single digit. The answer to that can only be ‘Good Luck!’
Modi appeared to be acutely aware that right now, for him and for the BJP, everything depends on returning to power. Polling starts in three days and the suspense is powerful. Opinion polls and national surveys point to a less than simple majority to the BJP, even if the NDA crosses the hump. The BJP cannot depend on its manifesto and promises made in it with ‘Sankalp’ alone, to get through.
Therefore, the rest of what Modi said and Amit Shah trotted out was about “national security”, BJP’s prima donna election plank. The focus was on Modi’s achievements on national security; from India in the forefront of Science & Technology to keeping the borders safe. Modi spoke about his government’s three-pronged approach of nationalism, women’s development and rural prosperity.
Lighting the embers of Ram Mandir one more time, he said other arrangements would be made for the Mandir’s construction. Ditto Uniform Civil Code. The question is will the people believe him? Opinion polls say Modi continues to be the most highly rated politician in the country and that might add weight to the ‘Sankalp Patra.’ The document was prepared with opinion and suggestions from six crore people, said Amit Shah. Finance minister Arun Jaitley said it made after much thought and debate. “This manifesto has not been prepared with a tukde tukde mindset and an Ivy League mindset,” he said triumphantly.
Jaitley claimed the 2014 manifesto has been “fulfilled”. His claim will be tested and his boast will be remembered when people go out to vote. Rajnath Singh, who headed the manifesto drafting committee, claimed the Modi government was “a highly performing one.” His words too will be weighed and tested. Most voters have already made up minds and it will hard to change them.
The opposition was quick to slam the BJP manifesto as another “collection of jhumlas”. Jaitley’s ‘tukde-tukde’ comparison came in for flak. And the fact that the BJP steered clear of “institutions” and “demonetization” came in for special mention. Modi’s promise to do away with Article 370 drew responses from Sitaram Yechury and Farooq Abdullah. “What happened to the black money trail?” asked Yechury. (IPA Service)