BJP manifesto avoids populism

It is good that the BJP resisted the temptation to out-promise the Congress Party on  freebies to the voters. The release of the party’s manifesto, or Sankalp Patra, as the party likes to call it, on Monday laid to rest any fear of a competitive populism. The ruling party did not offer its own version of the Congress’s Nyuntam Aay Yojna (NYAY). Maybe what might have further dissuaded it to match the Congress’s promise of a populist dole was that it sees itself retaining power in the 2019 poll.

On the other hand, its main rival can afford to be extravagant, promising the moon because it realizes it is unlikely to be held true to it by the voters who seem set not to elect it to power. However, the BJP did commit itself to further expand the annual Rs 6,000 payment to farmers. And talked of providing pension to small and marginal farmers and small businessmen above the age of 60.

How much it will cost the exchequer is yet to be worked out but the idea seems to provide a modicum of financial support to the distressed farmers. The protective social sector net is slowly expanding for the farm sector what with periodic loan waivers and the outright payment of Rs two thousand, every four months to marginal farmers. The BJP promises interest-free kisan credit loans, short term interest-free loans up to Rs one lakh for one to five years, etc.

The manifesto reiterates the Prime Minister’s earlier commitment to double farmers’ income by 2022.  However the real solution of farm sector woes lies in structural reforms and weaning away millions of farm hands for other productive work in rural areas, if possible, and in urban and semi-urban areas. The farm sector even after deep reforms will not be in a position to support so many people who are currently dependent on it for their livelihoods.

There must be a shift from farm sector to manufacturing, services and other commercial and financial sectors. Overall, the party envisions the economy surging to $10 trillion by 2032. Further refinement of the GST, lowering the rates and expanding compliance are other promises in the economic field.

A really ambitious promise is to invest Rs100 lakh crore on infrastructure by 2024. There is a promise to provide pucca houses by 2022 to every family now living in kuccha houses or without a house altogether. In the political sphere, the party has not given up its old chestnuts about scrapping Article 370 and to annul Article 35 A which bars outsiders to own property in Jammu and Kashmir.

And of course the promise to introduce a Uniform Civil Code. Then there is this assurance of building the Ram temple once it is voted back to power. Given that a Supreme Court-appointed three-member panel is presently examining the issue to offer a negotiated solution, the BJP promise would clearly be subject to its recommendations.

However, the reiteration of the commitment to build the Ram temple is a salve to millions of devout Hindus, especially in UP and Bihar, who were emotionally drawn to L K Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra. Surprisingly, the BJP has not flinched from reaffirming its faith in the controversial National Register of Citizens despite the recent widespread protests in Assam and other north-eastern States.

The RSS believes that persecuted Hindus in other lands ought to be offered unrestricted migration to India while citizens of other faiths who are driven by poverty to sneak into the country must be kept out by tough measures. The party committed itself to further strengthen the armed forces and to procure the best possible defence equipment. The BJP is also committed to approach the apex court for a review of its order in the Sabarimal case.

And it will ban triple talaq and other anti-women practices by Muslim men. For the rural poor there is a promise of providing piped water to all households by 2024 and to link all panchayats by high-speed optical fibre by 2022. There is of course the commitment to fight terror with an iron hand and to deal with external enemies sternly.

In sum, there is everything for every section in the manifesto. However, by now the voters have become cynical enough to take all manifestoes with more than a pinch of salt. It is for the parties to take the promises they make seriously and endeavour to implement them.

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