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28 May 2020, Edition - 1780, Thursday

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From patting its back to promising to deliver, how Congress manifesto changed in 5 years


With elections in the biggest democracy in the world barely a week away, the Congress has pronounced its vision for India. The party released its manifesto for the 2019 elections on April 2. Released by the party top brass, the 2019 Congress manifesto makes some big promises. However, what stands out from the 55-page-long document is that the Congress has finally announced its resurgence as a national party.

The key highlight of the manifesto is the Congress’s flagship NYAY scheme, which promises Rs 72,000 a year to the poorest of poor families in India.

If one were to chart the evolution of the Congress from the 2014 to 2019, the best way to do it would be through analysing the party’s manifestoes from the two Lok Sabha elections.

While in 2014, the party’s manifesto was aimed at coming back into power with the usual sops and promises and a long list of past achievements, the 2019 Congress manifesto definitely indicates a bolder approach. The new manifesto shows introspection on the party’s part – learning from the mistakes it made as well as those made by the BJP.

The first point of difference comes from the name of the two manifestoes. While in 2014 Congress was still projecting itself as the diverse India’s representative with its ‘Your Voice, Our Pledge’ manifesto, in 2019 it seems to have directly hit out at the Modi government with the ‘Congress Will Deliver’ vision statement. This is indicated by a statement from party president Rahul Gandhi on page 2 — “I’ve never broken a promise that I’ve made.”

The second difference — how extensive the Congress’s vision for the nation is. In 2014, the Congress summarised its poll promises in 27 pages — highlighting 20 issues of national importance. In 2019, the party seems to have taken a deep look into the issues that have plagued the nation in the past five years — covering 52 topics over 55 pages.

While economy takes up the major chunk of both manifestoes, the key difference is that the 2019 manifesto seems to address issues with more targeted schemes. While the NYAY scheme is the obvious star of the manifesto, the Congress has also backed its focus on rising unemployment in the nation with the setting up of a Ministry of Employment. The party has outlined plans for job creation for both skilled and unskilled labour. Other important issues seem to correcting the GST regime as well as a separate farmer budget to address the agrarian crisis before India today.

The starkest difference between the two manifestos seems to be how willing the Congress is to take on the BJP. In 2014, it presented a simple choice to citizens – to choose between its secular values and BJP’s communalism. In 2019, Rahul Gandhi’s discourse on love and hate seems to have found its way into the Congress manifesto. Seeking to undo the “politics of hate”, the party has announced several key initiatives like scrapping the sedition law, making laws to punish mob lynchings, as well as a more inclusive approach to the LGBTQIA+ community among other minorities.

This time around the Congress has focussed on combating fear by talking of restoring artistic and press freedoms – an allegation that hangs over BJP’s head.

In the 2019 manifesto the Congress has shown its ability to take risks by seeking to undo a large part of the BJP’s legacy. The party has called for a review of the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA), in direct contrast to the BJP’s promise of revoking special status of Jammu and Kashmir. This move has sent the saffron party in a tizzy with leader after leader decrying the provision as “dangerous”.

The Congress also seeks to establish its old glory by scrapping the NITI Aayog and bringing back the Planning Commission. The party wants to restore Nehruvian policies, considering that Nehru has taken quite a browbeating in the past five years. Also to be restricted – the overarching power of the Aadhaar card.

Also notable are mentions of environmental policies, revoking of electoral bonds as well as the promise to protect digital rights of citizens – issues that did not find mention previously.

Congress has several professionals to thank for its detailed manifesto. The schemes show a degree of expertise and planning that has come from consultations with experts like Raghuram Rajan, Thomas Piketty, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Abhijit Banerjee and Lt Gen DS Hooda.

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