The cleverest thing about the Congress’ 2019 election manifesto is arguably its name, ‘Hum Nibhayenge.’ Evidently, it has been named in contradistinction with the widely perceived gap between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promises and their observance in the breach. This may click with the electorate, though there is not much in the manifesto that can be called encouraging or novel.
It seems that the grand old party, by not making big promises, wants to do two things: first, impress the electorate about its sincerity in keeping them, for modest assurances are easier to keep; and, second, highlight the inadequacy of the Modi regime to redeem its pledges. So, there is Nyuntam Aay Yojana (Nyay), the minimum income guarantee scheme, that Congress president Rahul Gandhi called the “biggest idea” of the manifesto.
“I agree that Nyay is not doable, but by the BJP. For the Congress it is possible and we will show them how it is done. The BJP said farm loan waivers cannot be done, but we showed it by doing so in states. We will do this as well. I do not lie like the BJP and PM Modi. I won't say 15 lakhs like he did, but I will promise Rs 72,000 per year to the poor and will deliver it.” Rahul said.
The manifesto begins with his assertion: “I’ve never broken a promise that I’ve made.” The message is simple: ‘We don’t talk big, but what we assure, we do. Unlike Modi.’
While the manifesto also has provisions to boost economic growth and development, its defining features are welfarism and populism. Nyay is: “Poorest 20 per cent of families to be guaranteed a cash transfer of Rs 72,000 a year each; money to be transferred to the account of a woman of the family; estimated cost will be less than 1 per cent of GDP in Year 1 and less than 2 per cent of GDP in Year 2 and thereafter.”
Then there is the attempt to woo the middle classes: “All of the 4 lakh vacancies as on 1 April 2019 in the Central government, Central public sector enterprises, judiciary and Parliament will be filled before the end of March 2020. Congress will request state governments to fill all vacancies, estimated at 20 lakh… and in local bodies.”
Needless to say, the Congress has done little to explain the sources which would fund these objectives. Chunavi jumlas? One wonders.
The Congress has promised to enact the Direct Taxes Code in the first year of government, which is good and doable. Further, the party “promises to encourage and incentivize starting of new businesses. The Angel Tax imposed on start-ups will be withdrawn completely. We will make India an innovation hub.” Very good.
But there are also worrisome features. The GOP seeks to “review and replace the current GST laws with the GST 2.0 regime based on a single, moderate, standard rate of tax; abolish the e-way bill.” GST 2.0? So, would the present regime, whose implementation has brought considerable pain to business, be replaced with another one, or a new version? More pain?
The Congress seems confused on its social and political agenda. It “promises to decriminalize defamation and sedition; amend laws that allow detention without trial; pass Prevention of Torture Act…” So far, so good, but it also wants to “amend” the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts or Afspa. Wouldn’t it, by taking the cover to our security personnel in Kashmir, help separatists and terrorists?
On national security and foreign policy, its stand is pro-forma: “Will ensure defence spending is increased to meet requirements of the armed forces; evolve suitable policies to address data security, cyber security, financial security, communication security…” Similarly, the party wants “to establish a National Council on Foreign Policy; re-double the efforts to win for permanent membership India in the UNSC and the Nuclear Suppliers Group; significantly increase the size of the Foreign Service.”
The way Rahul and his party colleagues are trying to sell the manifesto to people—with the theme and slogan “Congress will deliver”—they are likely to get traction in the hustings. But would they be able to deliver? That seems unlikely, given the excessively welfarist and populist nature of the manifesto.