Congress Manifesto: Poll Plank or Total Compromise?

Published : Apr 08, 2019 10:53 am | By: M D Sridharan

Congress party released its manifesto nd claims that has enough to address everyone’s concerns” in the country. But, it seems to be a sheer adventurism coupled with reckless populism and willingness to play with taxpayers’ money.

On 2nd of April, 2019, the Congress party unveiled its manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections.

Congress claims that the manifesto has enough to address everyone’s concerns” in the country and will seize the narrative of “polarization” from the BJP to bring it back on the real issues of “unemployment, farmers’ distress and women’s security”.

After unveiling the party manifesto, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said, “I had given two instructions. It should reflect the wishes of the people of the country. And, it should be based on truthfulness because every day we hear lies from the prime minister.”  “There is nothing in the manifesto that is a lie,” claimed the Congress President.

Besides the  biggest idea of NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana) scheme, touted to be the “Garibi par waar, 72,000 (War on poverty with Rs 72,000 cash support), the manifesto promises a separate budget for the farmers on the lines of railway budget, the 6 per cent budgetary allocation to education sector, increasing the days of work under MNREGA from 100 to 150 days and ensuring “no permission is required for starting a new business”.

Congress,  in its election manifesto has promised to repeal the  review the Armed Forces Special Powers  Act (AFSPA) , repeal   sedition law besides re-establishing the NSAB (National Security Advisory Board) and bringing both  the National Security Council (NSC) and the office of National Security Adviser (NSA) under the law and made accountable to Parliament. Besides, it will also establish the office of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to be the “principal adviser” to the government on matters relating to defence

Congress manifesto committee chairman P Chidambaram said, “Wealth and welfare is the theme of the Congress manifesto. The idea is how you marry wealth and welfare. The idea is to set the narrative for the 2019 election. The BJP, which is our opposition, is trying to seize the narrative. They are trying to take the narrative to old, 2014 election narrative of polarization, divisiveness and hyper nationalism,” He also  said the election document of the party addresses the “concerns of our farmers, youth, women, dalits, minority, industry, workers as well as those about internal security, national security and foreign policy.”

The Manifesto that challenges the National Security

Taking a closer look at the manifesto, it clearly shows that the grand old party has changed its own tunes.  Congress hopes that its deliberate attempt to shift from its position on issues related to national security will really change the dynamics of the country in its favour in the coming polls.

While the Congress manifesto promises to marry ‘welfare and wealth’, with the slogan ‘Hum Nibhayenge’ (We Will Deliver’, in answer to BJP’s slogan of Mumkin Hai’ (It is Possible),   it largely focuses on Jammu and Kashmir. 

The very idea of a moving more troops to the border areas of the valley in an attempt to stop infiltration completely, is not a good idea. While it is welcome to  make sincere attempts to restore  peace in Jammu & Kashmir, what is really worrying is the fact that at a time of increased attack on the Army, the Congress manifesto comes with a specific proposal related to national security — in Jammu & Kashmir.

Also, reducing the  presence of the Indian Army and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) in the Valley and entrust more responsibility to the Jammu and Kashmir Police to maintain law and order, is  considered as an act of undermining the valour of  the army.

The party manifesto talks about making suitable changes in AFSPA to balance the requirements of security and the protection of human rights. Does it mean that the army has so far misused AFSPA?

The Congress party sought a professional advice on national security from an expert in Lt General DS Hooda (retd) — who oversaw the 2016 surgical strike — to draft the national security strategy for its manifesto.  Hooda knows the reality of the situation on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir and his views are respected. But the Party coolly ignored his suggestions.

Also the fact remains that Jammu and Kashmir is no better off than when the Congress left it. The inability to move beyond the talks in the last several decades of proxy war with Pakistan, stands testimony to its leadership. But, the party is talking of redeployment of the security forces. It looks strange that a party with a national presence and the one that ruled the nation for the most part since independence and also aspiring to rule again, must have an   agenda to protect the country and get the army back to the Line of Control (LoC). More so at a time when there is large-scale local terrorist recruitment taking place aided by Pakistan. 

In the terror stricken state, guarding the LoC, preventing infiltration, gathering intelligence and executing counter terror operations is a continuous process. 

Currently, it is the army’s Rashtriya Rifles (RR), which in conjunction with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Jammu and Kashmir Police provides adequate security environment.

Any attempt to disturb the continuum process will not only shake up the state and also result in drastic threats and catastrophic proportions of unrest in the valley. Earlier, Congress made an erroneous decision in 2012 to remove troops from Kashmir and redeploy them in Ladakh, denuding parts of south Kashmir, which eventually became the bone of contention. Today the situation has vastly changed in terms of nature of threats and operations from the time AFSPA was drafted and passed on 4 July, 1990.  Since then, the Army has seen and handled thousands of contingencies with aplomb.

 In such a scenario, to dilute AFSPA is nothing short of suicidal act. But the party says that it has proposed to review AFSPA, “only to balance the requirements of security and the protection of human rights”. But, when FIRs against stone-pelters are being quashed, then why not the party consider the same for security men for doing their duties by not registering FIRs against them.

Another important aspect of the manifesto   deals with the issue of talks with stakeholders, in an apparent attempt to restore peace in the state. But, the party failed to mention with whom the talks would be done?  First and foremost is to seek a fresh and representative leadership among civil society with whom engagement could be undertaken. Talks without pre-conditions while eschewing muscular militarism and legalistic formulations, without the identification of new leadership is of no use.

It simply mentions of the appointment of three interlocutors to facilitate talks with civil society even as no tampering with Article 370 finds mention.  Last time also,   the UPA government did engage the stake holders in an array of talks.  But the report of the interlocutors remained in secrecy with the UPA government. It is important to note that neither the report was tabled in Parliament, nor discussion on it with the security forces nor other major players were held subsequently.

But, the manifesto clearly missed to mention anywhere about another emotional issue  the state has witnessed:  the Kashmiri Pandits.  Surely, a manifesto of a major national party conveniently moved away from discussing a pertinent issue -   the plight of a community that has been forcibly exiled from its home. While, Congress is geared up to initiating a dialogue with the ‘jihadi” stakeholders, in the case of displaced Kashmir Pandits, the party remains conspicuously silent.

It is indeed a welcome move to take appropriate action against discrimination and harassment to protect the students, traders and others belonging to Jammu and Kashmir in the rest of India and ensuring their safety and their right to study or do business.  UDAAN, HIMAYAT and UMMEED are indeed good schemes for development of skills to have better scope for employment, but strict monitoring of funds is a necessity to avoid corruption which has huge scope in such schemes.

BJP Criticises Congress Manifesto

Coming strongly on the Congress manifesto, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley  described it as an agenda for the “balkanisation” of India and accused the party of “diluting” the idea of national security.  “Even though there was a drafting committee, it appears that some of the important points have been drafted by the Congress president’s friends in the ‘tukde-tukde’ gang when it deals with Jammu & Kashmir and national security. Some of the ideas are positively dangerous. They are an agenda for the balkanisation of India. This manifesto contains such agendas which break the nation and goes against the unity of the country,” Jaitley said.

Referring to portions in the manifesto that promises a review of laws, rules and regulations, including those related to sedition and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Jaitley said: “We have lost a major part of J&K.  But since the present leadership of the party has come into contact with Jihadis and Maoists, he says Section 124A of the IPC will be repealed. Sedition will be scrapped, deshdroh will not be an offence.  A party that makes such a promise does not deserve a single vote in this country.”

Referring to the dilution of AFSPA, Jaitley pointed out “Congress stand on AFSPA that marks a fundamental shift because the UPA under Manmohan Singh had maintained a studious silence on the recommendations of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee and Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) which had called for the repeal or amendment of the AFSPA, asked Jaitley.

On sedition Jaitley said, “It repeals Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which defines and then punishes an accused in sedition. Even for terrorists and hardcore criminals, it underlines the principles ‘bail is the rule and jail is the exception’.  The Congress manifesto says it plans to decriminalise sedition since “it has been misused” and has become redundant. It also made a specific proposal to “omit” IPC Section 499 which deals with criminal defamation — the party said it proposes to make defamation a civil offence.

On Congress’  promise to have a continuous dialogue with the separatists, Jaitley  described the Congress as “the principal creator of the Jammu and Kashmir problem”, and accused it of ignoring Kashmiri Pandits.  “Congress created a special status; it unconstitutionally brought in Article 35A. It rigged the 1957, 1962, 1967 as also the 1988 Assembly elections. This eroded the confidence of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and now its manifesto only brings smiles on the faces of the separatists and the terrorists. It must be noted that the separatists want to settle for nothing other than cessation from India and have spurned on various occasions to have a dialogue with them on the issue.

Accusing the Congress of having “always been soft on terror”, Jaitley said: “Late Shri Rajiv Gandhi introduced TADA. Later the Congress revoked it. It revoked POTA. Now it wants to go further soft on separatism and terrorism. There is only a lip sympathy in the assault required on Maoist violence, which Dr Manmohan Singh had described as the greatest threat to India. In the recent elections, as also in the case of JNU and urban Maoists, Congress and Congressmen have always flirted with the Maoists as fellow travellers”. “The manifesto compromises national security and has sham and bluff promises with little detailed understanding of the subjects involved. It is an irresponsible document which has never to be implemented since Congress looks a certain loser”, further added Jaitley.

Describing the Congress’s minimum income guarantee scheme, NYAY, as a “bluff”, Jaitley said most economists have already rubbished that idea. He said the Congress does not commit to any loan waiver but claims to have done so in several states. “If you look at the track record of Karnataka, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, a miniscule effort has not even been put. Even the PM-KISAN is on hold in Congress states,” Jaitley pointed out.

The cash transfer of Rs 72,000 per family per annum is now going to be attained over a period of time i.e., two years and more importantly, will be shared with the states. Hence the full cost of Rs 3.5 lakh crore will be over a period of time and shared with states. “NYAY, in the Manifesto, has now become a joint scheme of the Central and the State governments,  thereby diluting the initial announcement that NYAY will be over and above existing schemes. It is visible through the manifesto that “NYAY” is an all time big Congress bluff,” said Jaitley.

Prime Minister  Modi, in his characteristic style,  said, "I saw this sham manifesto (dhakosla patra). It is meant to break the morale of our security forces. It promises removing AFSPA from disturbed areas like Kashmir. This is an attempt to render our brave soldiers helpless in the fight against terror, have their hands and feet tied. The Congress's election promise will help those peddling terror from Pakistan”.

He also criticised  how the Congress was sympathetic to "anti-national" forces. “The Congress has made a scheme for violence by secessionists, for those who abuse country, for those who burn tricolour, for those who don’t say jai Hind, for those who chant Bharat tere tukde hoonge, for those who deface Ambedkar’s statue. The Congress has sympathy for such people. The chowkidar (Modi) is standing with brave sons of soil, the Congress has become ideologically bankrupt”, he said.

BJP chief Amit Shah also attacked the manifesto during a rally in Tamil Nadu: “I want to ask the Congress president. The soldiers fighting at borders, do you want to empower them or demoralise them?” In a separate statement, BJP President Amit Shah said the Congress has launched a “cruel attack” on national security. Shah claimed that by promising to alter the sedition law and dilute the provisions of AFSPA, Congress was “bringing a smile on the faces of terrorists and separatists”. “What is the reason that terrorists, separatists, the Pakistan Prime Minister and the Congress manifesto speak the same language?” Shah said.

Implementation Hurdles

The Congress manifesto talks about several poll promises, but many of them will meet implementation hurdles. While , Congress banks on its “NYAY”  - The Minimum Income Guarantee Scheme”  to storm back to power, there arises a pertinent question:  Why did not  the Congress  think about the poor when it was in power?  

There is lot of confusion over NYAY, which guarantees Rs 72,000 a year to the poorest 20 per cent of households. Congress claims that the families in the bottom 20 per cent of the income pyramid earn only Rs 72,000 per year and NYAY would deposit another Rs.72000 in their account directly, thereby providing them a monthly income of Rs 12,000.

What if a family does not earn a single rupee? Will it then be entitled to Rs 12,000 per month, because  Congress says that every family should either earn at least Rs 12,000 to stay above poverty. In today’s scenario, any unskilled labourer earns  Rs. 550 any  per day and assuming that aht he or she is employed for 22 days in month, he or she earns more than Rs. 12,000 per month.

If NYAY is implemented, what  will these people do? Will they continue to work and earn their daily wages or remain unemployed and comfortably get NYAY subsidy?  Chances are that millions of people who earn more than Rs 12,000 per month may slip to BPL if there is a crisis of any sort. The manifesto has clearly stated that there will not be any discrimination between rural and urban people if NYAY is implemented.

Moreover, the party has not yet explained the process of how they will give the amount of Rs. 72,000 to the 20 crore poor. It is estimated that the Union government would have to spend Rs 3,60,000 crore to give a monthly household income of Rs 6,000 to the bottom 20 per cent of the population. Also the fact remains that the party had  ruled the country for the maximum period and the history shows that Congress has always failed to fulfil its promises.  .

Another issue is the jobs. The manifesto speaks of creating 10 lakh jobs. Congress has not said how the number is arrived  and whether it will be done in the government or in the private sector.  At the current scenario, It cannot be in the government per se as both the Central and state governments are going slow on recruitment. Therefore, jobs have to be created in the private space.

Always the demand for labour is proportional on how the economy progresses. What if the economy suffers and in that case how will the party  meet its challenge?

Further, the party has promised to allow people to set up enterprises without any permission for the first three years. In a federal structure, there are limits on what the Centre can take on when it comes to the states. In such a scenario it will not be easy to adhere to different  state and local laws. It will be  cumbersome task.

The party has also spoken about increasing the number of days under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) to 150 days. But, if one takes a closer look,  extending the days  to 150 may not make a material difference as there is limited access to such jobs for various reasons.

The manifesto also promises to  bring a single-rate GST . Already all the essential goods and food items attract no GST. How Congress proposes to slash GST rates further is remains to be seen.  

Overall, at this stage , with no concrete framework to implement these schemes,  the  Congress manifesto  looks like a sheer adventurism coupled with reckless populism  and willingness to play with taxpayers’ money. 

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