Congress aspires to deliver on the national stage riding on a people-centric manifesto
A birds-eye view of Indian National Congress's manifesto for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections indicates the party's shift towards its original constituents while trying to remedy the old misconceived deeds.
Indian National Congress has taken an open stand on people's side and more specifically, the poor and the marginalised by following the basic principle of Mahatma Gandhi "the people are the sovereign", through their manifesto. This document provides the party's perspective and position on all the aspects of politics, governance and development. It has drifted away from its original constituents namely the poor, marginalised, minorities, Dalits, and Tribals gradually since the 60s and rapidly in 80s.
A perception has been developed among the poor that Congress has moved away due to neoliberal policies. This perception has been used by the regional political parties which have weakened the base of Congress by expanding their bases. As a result, Congress has lost its roots in many of the states. It is a fact to be noted that though it followed neoliberal policies, Congress continuously evolved and implemented pro-poor policies and programmes with huge outlays. Congress was tough enough to deal with the regional parties when they struggled for regional aspirations. It has always got a concern for the poor. All entitlements of the poor have been given in the form of rights during the UPA regime. Despite all, arguments have been projected that there is no difference between Congress and BJP. Congress has been for the poor and with the poor through its programmes even during the neoliberal era. Hence it cannot be compared with BJP. Congress has been a platform where left, right and centre can work together to serve the Indian masses. BJP cannot accommodate all.
Through their comprehensive manifesto, Congress demonstrated that it would stand beside the affected people because of the repressive policies and activities of the NDA government and BJP in the last five years. Further, through the assurances in the election manifesto, Congress reiterated that people are sovereign and the state has to work for the people without depriving their rights. It gave a message that it would like to keep the people in the North East and Kashmir as citizens not as subjects by giving assurance that it would examine the powers given to the Army. It gives a sense that Congress has taken a bold step to move away from the earlier tradition by accommodating the regional aspirations.
Extensive regional consultations have been conducted to elicit the views of the people for the preparation of the manifesto. While doing so experts have been invited and sought their views and opinions. The same has been scrutinised and wetted by the domain experts to make it more doable as they are to be delivered if it comes to power.
The promises given in the manifesto have intensified its intentions to strengthen the institutional mechanism created during the previous UPA regimes meant for poor and the marginalised. The schemes announced in the manifesto are to address and solve the acute problems faced by the farming, pastoral, tribal, fishing and craft communities which constitute 78 per cent of the population in India. Through their manifesto, Congress gives a signal that it is a contextualised national political party with a concern for the poor, minority and the marginalised. And at the same time, it gives a sense that this party will be realistic in handling the regional issues.
Revival of Planning Commission and enlarging the rights regime have raised hope for regional political parties to tie up with the Indian National Congress. Revival of Planning Commission indicates the fact that the allocation of resources would be based on an accepted scientific formula and not on the discretion of the Central government. Series of measures have been indicated in the manifesto to strengthen the local bodies.
The whole manifesto has brought a new paradigm of empowering the people, making the people citizens not subjects and restoring the sovereignty of the people which is fundamental as advocated by MK Gandhi. It is not a wish list but a well thought, implementable document. If it reaches the masses, it will be the game changer in this election. It needs systematic and serious effort on the part of the party cadres to take it to the masses if it really wants to be a serious player in capturing power at the centre.
(The author is former Professor and Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute. The views expressed are strictly personal)