Crowd-sourced manifestos do not know pulse of people

Political parties are making a big virtue of crowd-sourcing their manifestos, claiming it is the ultimate way to democratise their promise and performance. They claim this will help them come up with the real manifesto that people want, rather than handing them down something that is arbitrary and unwanted.

Rahul Gandhi’s new generation Congress started the process early. It launched a website specifically for the purpose as early as in October 2018. Manifesto.inc.in offers a choice of 16 languages for respondents, who have to provide their basic details, including phone numbers and email ids, to take part in the process. The outreach is overseen by a 22-member panel, which will draw up the manifesto on the basis of inputs gathered by the site.

BJP launched the crowd-sourcing operation only last month, but set a target of taking inputs from 10 crore people, covering 4,000 assembly constituencies. The ruling party has a ‘click and mortar’ approach, where respondents can key in their suggestions on the site www.bharatkemannkibaat.com or call up a toll-free number.

For the less initiated, a fleet of specially-equipped trucks fans out to all the assembly constituencies, taking inputs from voters ‘physically’. It is like a fancy competition among the contenders to get to know what the people want. Sounds very good. Each party will have a manifesto that ‘outpromises’ the rest of them and what more do you need to win the trust of the people?

But there is a flip side. Are the voters expected to place their future in a party that does not even know what would be the best in the interest of the people? By crowd-sourcing, you can produce a perfect manifesto; but that does not mean it is going to work.

‘Old school’ politics had parties toeing a certain line, when it came to policies and development strategies. And these positions were well-known and people could bet on how well a party or a coalition arrangement would approach the issues faced by them. It was never based on fancy manifestos. The idea of crowd-sourcing the manifesto was first launched by Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, which was somewhat justified in adopting the method because his party had no past, no track record and no known positions.

But a party like the Congress, or the BJP, which has a history, a track record of performance and a time-tested line of approach when it came to issues, is supposed to know what the country needs. You can have the fanciest manifesto, but that does not mean that it will help flow milk and honey throughout the country.

Modi has been a past master in ‘decentralising’ his administrative approach. But that did not ensure he had the perfect solution to the country’s problems. In fact, on many issues, he got it wrong. Most of his ‘outreach’ solutions only produced results that were completely opposite to what was originally intended.

But for him Mann Ki Baat and other programmes were tools for reaching out to hearts and minds. They had no role in the process of governance. Nor did it help democracy in any manner. There is also a third angle to the crowd-sourcing programme. Our political parties have never been known for their commitment to safeguarding privacy and security of the respondents.

If anything, they have been found in the past to have associated with efforts to misuse confidential data for political purposes. They have even hired third parties with questionable integrity to abuse the system and turn public opinion in their favour through means that are less than straightforward and trustworthy.

In any case, fancy manifestos mean nothing when it comes to real issues of development and governance. We have a bitter experience with even Modi’s promises on black money and an equitable system of wealth distribution. Everything sounded perfect on paper, but when it came to implementation, nothing seemed to work.

It was the same old story of misguided priorities and missed targets. The crowd-sourced manifestos are nothing more than hollow exercises to hoodwink public opinion, without any other real intent. You can have the best manifesto in the world, but that is not going to change anything on the ground.

In fact, there is strong case for making political parties accountable for what they promise. It is not enough to say that they will have to face the consequences the next time they go back to the people. That is no solution, because there is huge opportunity loss for the people. There is no way the lost opportunity can be retrieved.

K Raveendram is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.

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