BJP manifesto bypasses reforms

   By Ravi Shanker Kapoor ,  09-Apr-2019
BJP manifesto bypasses reforms

It is high on rhetoric and low on specifics

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, titled ‘Sankalp Patra,’ is a blend of nationalist assertions and welfarist pledges. It is on expected lines. There is nothing in it that suggests that the ruling party is keen on economic reforms—the prerequisite for not just growth and development but also national security. 

Right in the beginning in the manifesto, the BJP announces its nationalist credentials by talking about “zero-tolerance approach to terrorism.” It says, “Our security doctrine will be guided by our national security interest only. This is exemplified by the surgical strikes and the air strikes carried out recently. We will firmly continue our policy of ‘zero tolerance’ against terrorism and extremism and will continue to follow our policy of giving a free hand to our security forces in combating terrorism.”

Beside strengthening the armed forces, bolstering the defence sector, and working for the welfare of soldiers, the BJP will also modernize armed forces. Or so it says: “We will continue to take forward the process of modernizing the Central Armed Police Forces to further increase their capacity and readiness and enable them to effectively combat internal security challenges.”

The party also promises to assistance states to upgrade their police forces: “We will encourage expedited police reforms in the states so as to enable the state police forces to deal with new types of crimes like cyber-crime and help them to be more sensitive to the citizens, especially the weak and vulnerable sections of the society.”

This sounds very good, but the past performance in modernizing police doesn’t inspire much confidence. In January 2015, the Finance Ministry had rejected the Home Ministry’s demand for an additional Rs 1,500 crore allocation for police modernization funds. This was despite Home Minister Rajnath Singh himself pushing for the Modernization of Police Forces (MPF) Scheme. So, it was brave on the part of Singh, as the Manifesto Committee Chairperson, to make a promise on MPF.

But, whatever its record, the BJP has been very emphatic on security matters. Whether it is infiltration, reinforcement of border security, coastal safety, the Citizenship Amendment Bill, or Maoism, the BJP is unambiguous about its tough stance. For the first time, it has also promised to the annul controversial Article 35A of the Constitution. It is another matter that its old promised of abrogating Article 370 is yet to be redeemed. Similar is the fate of other ‘core issues’ of the BJP—a Ram Temple and uniform civil code. Once again, the saffron party has promised these two.

Cognizant of rural distress, the saffron party has spoken extensively about farmers. It has pledged to extend the recently launched Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana (PM-Kisan) to all. Originally intended to ensure financial support to farmers owning land up to 2 hectares, now it “will further expand the coverage of the scheme to all the farmers in the country.”

There are also assurances regarding farm insurance, irrigation expansion, pension, interest-free loans, seeds, warehousing, agri-allied sectors, cooperatives, fisheries, animal husbandry, convergence of agriculture and technology, digitization of land records, gram swaraj, etc. But there is nothing that would suggest any major liberalization in agriculture—the sector that has been almost bypassed by economic reforms. The term Agricultural Produce Market Committee or APMC, which has been the bane of the farmer for quite some time, does not figure in the manifesto. 

On macroeconomic issues, too, the manifesto is high on rhetoric and low on specifics. Consider this: “We aspire to make India the third largest economy of the world by 2030. This implies that we commit to make India a US$5 trillion economy by 2025 and US$10 trillion economy by 2032.” Very good; nobody, even the BJP’s severest critics would not slam it on this count.

But how do you become the third largest economy? Just by shouting slogans? Or chalking out policies like Make in India? Brisk growth is a function of economic reforms, but the manifesto is silent on any. 

The BJP manifesto is unimpressive, but then elections in India are not won or lost on the content of manifestoes. Therefore, the slogan-heavy hodgepodge of good intentions, big promises, and bigger claims is not going to hurt the BJP.