Op-Ed: Whose manifesto is it anyway?

Bhubaneswar: Manifestoes are an integral part of elections in India. They are supposed to mirror the thinking of the political parties in the fray and their understanding of the collective aspirations of the people they seek to represent. These charter of promises are supposed to be sacrosanct, but in our country election manifestoes have become notorious for dream peddling and treating people to hoaxes. Promises made by political parties are hardly ever kept.

They have also emerged as major propaganda tools with major parties in Odisha this time making them part of their public outreach programmes. Both Congress and BJP claim to be seeking public opinion to make their manifestoes truly reflective of popular aspirations. The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), of course, would not be left behind in this matter.

Making the manifesto preparation exercise inclusive and participatory is a bright idea but at the end of the day what matters most is the honest and sincerity of the party which is seeking public opinion. Significantly, this time there is a growing clamour from civil society members to bring the election manifestoes of various political parties under a legal framework so that they can be made accountable for fulfilling the promises made when they come to power. Recently a group of civil society activists in Bhubaneswar submitted a memorandum to the Governor in this regard.

The concerns of the civil society are genuine as the manifesto promises of political parties in our country have almost invariably been observed in their violation. This is taking a toll on their image as well as the international image of Indian democracy. The mendacity of our country’s politicians has spawned Bollywood potboilers and songs lampooning them. But unfazed they continue in the same vein.

Talking of poll promises, parties like Congress and BJP appear to have gone a step ahead in Odisha by making what can at best be described as written contracts with people. During his recent visit to the steel city of Rourkela, Congress president, Rahul Gandhi launched “guarantee cards” for youths, farmers and women listing out promises the party undertakes to fulfill if voted to power.

While the “guarantee cards” promise women financial assistance for higher education and marriage of their daughters apart from the appointment of a woman officer in each panchayat to deal with cases of violence against them, they assure farmers loan waivers  on the first day of government formation and Rs 2600 as the minimum support price (MSP) for paddy. They similarly hold out the promise of a minimum income guarantee to the youth.

The BJP soon after launched a “pratishruti patra’ or charter of promises guaranteeing pucca houses and  homestead land for the poor and jobs for the unemployed if voted to power. The saffron party plans to reach out to 50,000 villages across the state with such “pratishruti patras’’ with its leaders exuding confidence about fulfilling the promises being made.

Though the ruling BJD is yet to come with a clone of either Congress’ “guarantee card” or BJP’s “ pratishruti patra” it is certain to make a counter-move to woo the voters.  The moot question, however, is will these parties keep the promises they are making? In a democracy not only governments even political parties should be made accountable to the people. The sooner we develop a mechanism for this the better.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)