Time, as the saying goes, is the best healer of past wounds. To this list of wounds, one must add manifesto promises. The passage of time makes people forget about the promises made by the political parties in the previous elections. Come another poll season, a set of repackaged dreams are sought to be sold afresh. With just three days left for the country to go to the polls, the BJP unveiled a 75-point ‘Sankalp Patra’, a mishmash of doles, promise of welfarism, display of bravado over national security and a throwback to its core agenda of Ram temple and abrogation of Article 370. Unfortunately, manifestos in India have been reduced to electioneering pamphlets rather than policy documents reflecting ideological grounding. Over the years, the parties have become disdainful about the sanctity of the poll manifestos and are no more remorseful about their unkept promises or making unviable and impractical assurances. All parties are guilty of failing to keep their poll promises. The requirement that the manifestos are supposed to provide the ideological bedrock, vision and the thematic foundation for any political party’s communication with the electorate has been conveniently given a go-by. While making fresh promises, the BJP leadership has not spelt out how it plans to implement them nor has it addressed the issue of unkept promises of the past. Farm distress and joblessness have emerged as the central issues of this election. The impact of the twin issues was felt in the Assembly elections held in the northern States where the saffron party took the hit.
However, a closer look at BJP’s manifesto shows that it wants the campaign narrative to be built around the issues of national security, terrorism, Pakistan and core Hindutva. It does reiterate its 2017 promise of doubling farmer incomes by 2022, but its manifesto is silent on how the agricultural sector will achieve 14% annual growth, which is necessary for agricultural incomes to double over the next three years. There is no mention of the much-needed structural reforms in myriad sectors including agriculture, administration, finance and labour. It makes grandiose statements without going into the specific contours of policies. Understandably, the opposition has dubbed the BJP’s manifesto as a ‘copy-paste’ job and a rehash of its 2014 document. Questions are also being asked about the most audacious promise of depositing Rs 15 lakh into bank accounts of the poor after bringing back the black money stashed away in foreign banks. The BJP has made it a practice to release its manifesto very close to the election date. With the campaign agenda being already in place, the manifestos are slowly losing relevance and at best serve an academic purpose of analysing the nuanced shifts in ideological positioning.