By Sushil Kutty
With election campaigns moving to second and third gears, clarity and confusion on issues and positions prevails. The Bharatiya Janata is working to polarize along communal lines. Prime Minister Narendra Modi raises ‘Hindu terror’ at his rallies. Lesser BJP leaders justify “no party tickets to Muslim candidates” with “unless they show they vote BJP.”
It cannot any more clear than that. The BJP is fighting these elections on the twin planks of nationalism and national security and “Hindu versus Muslim votes.” In Telangana and Odisha, however, Modi raises bread and butter issues. ‘Populism’ is part of the BJP election rhetoric as much as it is that of the Congress narrative.
Modi had the advantage making promises in 2014. The Congress gets the advantage in 2019. Modi talked of ‘Acche Din Aayenge’ and allegedly “Rs 15 lakh in bank accounts.” The Congress manifesto released April 2, focuses on jobs, kisan and ‘bhrastachaar’. A SIT on Rafale is a promise. ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ will be part of the Congress campaign.
But ‘Nyay’ is the ‘flagship promise’. The crowd-sourced manifesto also promises 22 lakh ‘sarkari’ jobs by 2022, jobs which are lying vacant. Also 10 lakh jobs in gram panchayats, which are also there for the taking. Regulations which stand in the way of aspiring entrepreneurs will be struck off wholesale. Entrepreneurs will be allowed a three-year period of no government regulations.
The tagline of the Congress is ‘Create Wealth, Guarantee Welfare’. The manifesto was drafted and finalized after a total of 174 consultations including one in Dubai. It reflects the “concerns and ideas of the people”. Its contents are the “of millions of people, spoken or written by a citizen or citizens.” It addresses the concerns of farmers, youth, dalits; industry, small and medium entrepreneurs.
The manifesto says the real issues are “unemployment, farmers and women’s security”. And the “thread” that binds them together are “wealth and welfare” and “How do you marry the both?” is the question. The Congress contention is that the aspirations of people, their hankering for a “decent and dignified life” has gone for a toss under Modi rule.
For the Congress, prosperity and productivity go together, removing “ignorance and disease in a rapidly expanding economy” the priority. Getting rid of poverty and better the record of MGNREGA with Nyay, the objectives. The Congress refuses to accept that the narrative has shifted to “national security and hyper-nationalism.”
It believes that “missing in the last five years of BJP rule” is a mechanism to “bring together all sections of society” for inclusive development. The Congress manifesto’s title sums up the party’s vision: “Hum Nibhayenge” or “We’ll Deliver”. Congress President Rahul Gandhi contrasted “Congress Truthfulness” with “Modi’s Jhoots”.
He said the manifesto was not drafted behind closed doors, but “reflects the wishes of the people”; that whatever is in the manifesto is unalloyed truth. “When we speak, we tell the truth” and “we get the response from the people.” The manifesto took into account “how much money can be put in the poor man’s bank accounts?” and “How to re-start the “notebandi-hit economy?”
Rahul Gandhi for the BJP Nyay may not be “doable” but for the Congress it’s “very doable”. The manifesto promises a separate ‘Kisan Budget’ and “high-quality healthcare system for the poor.’ Farmer’s “karza maaf’ about which the “BJP doesn’t know a thing.” The manifesto promises to make farmer’s loan defaults a “civil offence.” It promises to increase education budget to 6% of the GDP.
But it are the other promises which Modi and the BJP will seize to set their narrative. These are linked to Jammu & Kashmir, national and internal security; J&K terrorism casualties. The manifesto promises a review of AFSPA. It promises talks with all J&K stakeholders including the Hurriayat and Pakistan. And the talks will be without “preconditions.” Three interlocutors will be appointed.
Rahul Gandhi says, there’ll be “zabardast” focus on “national and internal security.” The BJP is already calling it a “pro-Pak manifesto.” The manifesto also promises to scrap the sedition law and “safeguard” the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University. And defamation will be made a ‘civil offence’. (IPA Service)