By Nitya Chakraborty
The election manifesto released by the Congress Party on Monday for the assembly elections in Gujarat is full of pro-people agenda, keeping a big distance from the neo liberal policy approach which was the hallmark of the Congress leadership during its rule in centre from 2004 to 2014. In manifesto for the state assembly elections, the national policies on economy are not emphasized but the state level approach also indicates the trend which the Congress under the president-elect Rahul Gandhi is expected to follow in the coming years.
Taking a long term view, the Congress manifesto for the Gujarat elections has the potential to act as the core base of drafting a common minimum programme for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The salient features of the programme are sure to appeal to the common Gujarati people who have been suffering from the impact of demonetisation, the problems emanating from the implementation of GST, acute unemployment and fall in the standard of social services for the poor, especially the women. The Congress manifesto has exposed the fraud of the Gujarat model of development and that is the correct path of putting the pro-people policies before the masses, doing away with the big business and selected entrepreneurs centred industrial policies of the BJP government in the last 22 years.
The farmers are most stressed in Gujarat and the demonetisation has accentuated their woes further in the last one year. The Congress manifesto has taken into account this aspect in totality and suggested remunerative MSP pricing with declaration before the beginning of the season, apart from loan waiver for farmers in real terms. Apart, there are proposals for 16 hour electricity for farmers and free water for irrigation. For labour, there are promises for equal work, equal pay and increase in minimum wages. In Gujarat, the successive BJP governments have ignored the demands of the labour, especially the women labour and they are neglected most. The labour laws are tweaked to favour the industry people many of whom are aligned with the ruling party. As a result, the workers in distress never get fair hearings and their demands get unattended. If the Congress seriously implements its programme in the event of coming to power in the state, that will be a big relief for the labour in Gujarat.
The Gujarati people are generally business oriented and they have close ties with the BJP as the party of traders and industry. But this time, the GST implementation has hit the small and medium businessmen support base of the BJP, A number of demonstrations by the traders in different parts of the state including Gujarat, Rajkot, Vadodara indicate the extent of anger of the small traders at the problems they have been facing due to the implementation of GST. The Congress manifesto has taken up this aspect and has proposed exemptions in GST for small traders and small manufacturers.
The national political parties in their state manifestoes have to take into account the political situation in the concerned states in proposing the specific programmes. In Gujarat, the Congress has focused on the patidars, the farmers, the youth and women in a big way. The proposal of giving youth unemployment allowance to every unemployed youth at Rs. 4,000 per month till the person gets employment, is quite ambitious and it will need huge resources. The success of this programme will only depend on the capacity of the new government to generate huge jobs during its tenure. However, if the unemployed youth believe in the Congress programme, it will have a big impact on their voting pattern. Already, the youth are disenchanted with the BJP rule at both central and the state due to the absence of jobs. Not only new jobs are not being generated, the young people are also losing existing jobs. T he Congress can make good use of this discomfiture of the BJP by really creating a wave among the youth against the BJP. Rahul Gandhi’s accession as the Congress President should help the Congress in this campaign to entice the disgruntled youth of Gujarat.
As of now, just four days before the first phase of polls in Gujarat on December 9, indications suggest that the competition is quite close and this is a big advance for the Congress as it was nowhere in the battle picture when the campaign started. A vigorous campaign on the basis of the Congress manifesto in the next few days in both the phases of the elections, is sure to give further push and that what the Congress campaigners have to ensure to bring the voters to the booths on both December 9 and December 14. The anti-BJP sentiment is high among the voters and there is more unity among the anti-BJP forces with the full participation of patidar, dalit and OBC youth leaders. The BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi are nervous. They are now focusing their slander campaign only on Rahul Gandhi and Gandhi family and avoiding to talk about the Gujarat model of development and the peoples issues. A rejuvenated Rahul Gandhi has to meet the Modi campaign aggressively in the coming days. If he can win in Gujarat elections, the path will be facilitated for winning the final battle for Lok Sabha in 2019.
Even if the Congress can not ensure majority in the Gujarat assembly elections, it is certain that the BJP will only scrape through and in that event, the ground has to be made ready for a bigger assault in the 2018 assembly elections. The BJP has lost heavily in the rural and semi urban areas in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections. The final figures show that the BJP has lost nine per cent votes compared to the votes secured by the Party in the last assembly elections. Further, there are doubts about the use of EVMs and this is being widely believed that the BJP machinery has rigged the civic elections in UP through EVMs. Even if it is not true, the fact remains that the BJP has done well in urban areas, but overall, the saffrons have done miserably in Uttar Pradesh
Whatever is the result of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections, the next course for the Congress President elect Rahul Gandhi is to work for uniting the anti-BJP forces on the basis of a common minimum programme to fight BJP in the coming elections. Already the RJD, Sharad Yadav led JD(U),Trinamool Congress and AAP, are positioned against the BJP. The DMK is in a stronger position in Tamil Nadu politics and the DMK should be persuaded by Rahul and Mamata to be part of the anti-BJP front. The Left should be a major ally in this maha battle against the saffrons in 2019.The CPI is already committed to anti-BJP front along with other anti- communal forces including the Congress. The CPI-M leadership is still divided but the situation has improved and all indications are that the present general secretary Sitaram Yechury will be able to carry the delegates with him at the 22 nd Party Congress scheduled in April 2018 in favour of his policy of uniting all secular and democratic forces including the Congress against the BJP.
If that finally happens, a strong combination of the Congress, Left and the regional parties , is in a position to take on the Modi Government and defeat the BJP and its allies in the 2019 elections on the basis of a strong pro-peoples programme. Rahul has to facilitate the process of this broad unity by doing away with some of the Congress Party’s earlier neo liberal agenda at national level. The Congress President elect can invigorate the 132 year old GOP by projecting himself as the Peoples President just as he has termed the Congress manifesto for Gujarat elections as Peoples Manifesto. He can take some lessons from Jeremy Corbyn of Britain on how he regenerated the demoralized Labour Party by drastically giving pro people orientation to his Party programme. Today, he is knocking at the door of 10, Downing Street. (IPA Service)