Breaking up the Congress manifesto for the prime minister

The Congress released its manifesto with 20 important pledges. The PM’s, and indeed the BJP’s, reaction to these promises are awaited

(From left) Sonia Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and K.C. Venugopal release the manifesto in Delhi (photo: PTI)
(From left) Sonia Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and K.C. Venugopal release the manifesto in Delhi (photo: PTI)

A.J. Prabal

The good thing about the Congress manifesto for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections is that it is a thoughtful and exhaustive document of some of the worst problems being faced by the country.

Members of the manifesto committee, it is clear, put in a lot of hard work and came up with an ideal or workable solution for everyone and everything, from the stray dog menace (why leave out stray animals?) to the need of house helps for better regulated working conditions.

The bad thing is that the document, in a bid to find solutions for everything, has come up with over 300 pledges. They are hard to communicate, especially when mainstream media remain hostile and are unlikely to help disseminate the message. Even when they are communicated, it will be hard for the janta (public) to digest and remember the points that matter.

A poll manifesto being a charter of pledges and promises, a sharper 20-point highlight may have worked better. One can hardly blame Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not reading the 48-page manifesto and for concluding that the document reflects the thinking of the Muslim League!

For the prime minister’s benefit, and for the benefit of the political pundits who have already weighed in on the issue, allow me to break up what to my mind are some of the most important features of the document:

1. Inquiries to be ordered into demonetisation, the Rafale deal, purchase of Pegasus spyware, and the electoral bonds scheme; pledge to book wrong-doers.

2. Cases to be revived against those who defected to the ruling party and had the cases put in cold storage or shelved.

3. Probe to be ordered into defaulters and scamsters who fled the country and identify those who facilitated their escape.

4. The National Security Council, the National security Advisor, CBI, ED and intelligence agencies to be brought under Parliamentary oversight along with the Election Commission, NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) and other statutory agencies.

5. Constituting a National Judicial Commission to appoint Supreme Court and high court judges, setting up a Judicial Complaints Commission to look into complaints and ensuring a permanent Constitution bench of the Supreme Court to look into Constitutional challenges and an appellate bench to hear appeals.

6. Guaranteed and mandatory one-year apprenticeship for every graduate and diploma holder under the age of 25 on stipend; abolition of the Agnipath scheme, filling up vacancies in the government, urban employment guarantee scheme and social security for gig workers, domestic help and migrant labour.

7. Reserving 50 per cent of Central government jobs for women, doubling the number of anganwadi and ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers, legal protection against gender discrimination.

8. Federalism to be reviewed, more autonomy and power to states, Central cess to be capped at five per cent of gross tax revenue, brief to the next finance commission to be modified and more subjects transferred from concurrent to state list.

9. Restoration of statehood to Jammu & Kashmir, statehood to Puducherry, extension of the 6th schedule to tribal dominated areas, and special status to Andhra Pradesh as promised by the UPA government.

10. Travel concession for senior citizens to be restored and old-age pension, widow pension and disability pension increased to Rs 1,000 a month.

11. Free and universal healthcare, cashless insurance on the lines of the Chiranjeevi scheme introduced by the Gehlot government in Rajasthan.

12. Hardship allowance for doctors and healthcare professionals posted in rural areas to be doubled, law against violence unleashed on healthcare workers on duty.

13. Free and compulsory education up to Class 12, New Education Policy to be reviewed, fee regulation committees to be set up to recommend fee structure in private schools, autonomy to be restored to universities and educational institutions, and the system of hiring teachers on contract ended.

14. Legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP), farm and farmer-specific crop insurance schemes, and farmers to be given the option of selling their produce at mandis or APMCs (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) or through an e-market etc. Exim policies to be tailored to the needs of farmers.

15. Both houses of Parliament to sit for at least 100 days a year and the Opposition to be allowed to decide the agenda on one day every week.

16. Elections to be held through EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) but all VVPAT slips to be counted and matched with the EVM count. Autonomy and independence of the Election Commission to be restored.

17. The 10th schedule of the Constitution (Anti-Defection Act) to be strengthened and defectors to lose their membership of the legislature automatically.

18. Right of citizens to assemble peacefully to be restored and respected.

19. Amending the Constitution to extend reservation to SC, ST and OBCs beyond 50 per cent, filling up the backlog of reserved vacancies in government offices and PSUs (public sector units), extending reservation to private educational institutions, formation of a Diversity Commission, conducting a caste survey, scholarship for minorities and marginalised communities to be restored and doubled, and a Discrimination Commission set up to look into complaints of discrimination.

20. A reconciliation commission to be set up for Manipur; victims of violence and displacement in Manipur to be compensated, agreement with Naga groups to be finalised and autonomous district councils to be revived.

The manifesto also deals with foreign policy, internal security, laws related to bail, environment and water management, media and censorship. It pledges to restore relations in the neighbourhood and firmly repudiates mob lynching and any coercive and legal restrictions on the LGBTQIA+ community and against love.

Populist or progressive, the jury is out, with the first few critics pointing out that the manifesto does not speak of the Old pension Policy (OPS) that the Congress had pledged to restore in 2019 or of the AFSPA that it promised to withdraw. It is also silent on Article 370, they have pointed out.

Whatever the criticism, the prime minister’s interpretation that the document reflects the Muslim League is the most baffling; but then it is not so baffling perhaps, given how hard he is trying to communalise his campaign?

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