In a stark case of sharp contrasts, the Congress’ manifesto could never be more different to that of the BJP. Congress brings the belief that diversity is better than rigid uniformity. The Congress released its manifesto this week. After months of hard work by the research team, it pleases me a great deal to say that the party has a document that it can be proud of. A glance at the comments and feedback received on social media and my interaction with people on the ground prove that many in the country are of a similar view. The manifesto generated such a buzz that the party’s website, where it was uploaded, actually crashed due to heavy traffic.
The manifesto embodies the ethos of the Congress, which is to “create wealth and guarantee welfare.” It not only provides details of the Congress’ Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) scheme, but also details other promises that are relatively path-breaking. Of course, the pessimist (BJP), would say that these are mere promises but by putting such ideas down on paper and making it part of the manifesto, the Congress has shown that it is not going to shy away from taking responsibility and holding itself accountable. This, on its own, would be a marked shift from the attitude of the present BJP Government that has blamed everything and everyone for its governance failures.
While I would encourage everyone to read the manifesto themselves, I understand that this may not be possible for everyone of you. So in this week’s article, I will highlight certain features of the manifesto and also briefly deal with the rattled reaction of the BJP.
A separate ‘kisan’ budget: It will not be an exaggeration to say that perhaps no group of people has suffered from the BJP’s policies as much as the farmers have. An indicator of the distress caused to this community due to the BJP Government’s insensitive policies are the many protests that have been held by farmers all over the country. It has become increasingly clear over the past few years that the issues that plague the farmers are unique and, therefore, require a more focussed examination. The Congress in its manifesto has, therefore, proposed a separate budget for the kisan, where such issues can be dealt with in a specialised manner.
In the same vein as the presentation of a separate railway budget, the kisan budget, coupled with a national commission for farmers, will enable the Congress Government to devote time and resources to an area that may not be fashionable enough for the BJP but is, in fact, the engine which can drive the country’s growth.
Walk the talk on reforms: The BJP Government has indubitably failed to provide jobs and growth during its tenure. The Congress is clear that its goal of “guaranteeing welfare” will not be possible without growth. Often unfairly criticised for not being business-friendly, the Congress has actually detailed reforms that will help promote growth in the country and encourage entrepreneurship. These reforms include introducing a single rate Goods and Services Tax (GST) and fix some of the monumental errors of the BJP. While GST has the potential to promote growth by introducing efficiency, the faluda GST introduced by the BJP has actually hit growth negatively by creating different rates and ensuring that even those businesses, which never needed a professional chartered accountant, now find their services mandatory.
The Congress has instead proposed to simplify this entire process by introducing a single rate GST. In a rush to be the first one to criticise the manifesto, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spoke about how this single slab would treat items of necessity the same way as luxury items, ignoring the fact that such necessities are proposed to be exempted. It’s not for the first time that Jaitley has succumbed to the social media practice of commenting before examining.
Other than GST, the Congress has also proposed tax reforms that will encourage entrepreneurship. These include abolishing angel tax and coming down hard on any harassment of new businesses by tax authorities. Another positive step is to do away with the requirement for approvals for a new business in its first three years so that they get a chance to flourish before being stomped out by the weight of regulation.
Electoral reforms: I have previously written on many occasions that the “electoral bonds scheme” introduced by this BJP is one of the most brazen instances of organised lobbying and corruption. Through the electoral bonds scheme, which is currently under jurisdiction before the Supreme Court, the BJP has made the process of electoral finance more opaque than it has ever been. It has used its majority in Government to amend all Acts that provided some scope for transparency, including the Income Tax Act, the Representation of People Act and the Companies Act. What is worst is that it pretends to have brought in the scheme in the name of “transparency.”
In an affidavit to the apex court, the Election Commission has stated that electoral bonds and the removal of cap on corporate funding would have “serious impact” on transparency of funding of political parties.
The Congress will roll back this scheme and has proposed to introduce a National Election Fund that anybody can contribute to so that the damage already done by the BJP can be minimised.
The reaction: While the response to the Congress’ manifesto has been extremely positive and encouraging, it wasn’t surprising that the BJP raised ridiculous objections to it. One such objection is how the manifesto will weaken India. In fact, the Finance Minister in his latest blog talked about how the manifesto will aid terrorists and destroy institutions. His suggestion would be laughable if it was not so disconnected from reality. While this BJP Government does have the expertise to talk about “destroying institutions” (Reserve Bank of India, Central Bureau of Investigation etc), such an allegation against the Congress is just opposing for the sake of it.
The second allegation about the document containing elements that would make India unsafe, too, is wholly without any reason or merit. The fact is that India has seen more attacks and casualties during the BJP’s tenure than during the UPA’s.
Confucius, the Chinese teacher, had said, “The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” However, when you hold a hammer, everything looks like a nail, even when you’re dealing with fellow citizens. The fact is that the oppressive policies of the BJP have increased anger and uncertainty at home. If the BJP was actually serious about tackling terrorism and ensuring that India is safe, it would have paid a little more attention to its home. That may be difficult, though, since every third word out of a BJP spokesperson’s mouth is Pakistan.
In summary, the Congress’ manifesto represents everything that the BJP is not. It was prepared using suggestions from people with expertise in their respective areas and drafted with the underlying belief that diversity is better than rigid uniformity. It counters the BJP’s language of hate with a patois of progress. The paranoid reaction of the BJP, then, is understandable and telling.
(The writer is Jharkhand PCC president, former MP and IPS officer. Views are personal)
Writer: Ajoy Kumar
Courtesy: The Pioneer