Wild promises in poll manifestos cost little but it’s time for EC to restrain parties

Author Emma Goldman once said, “Politicians promise you heaven before elections and give you hell after.” But it is time to make political parties accountable for the promises

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

Kalyani Shankar

No party has ever implemented 100 percent of the promises made in manifestoes. The rate of compliance with election promises is erratic for most parties after coming to power. So what is the point of coming out with pre- election manifestoes?

The political manifesto has a long history. Manifesto is a written statement of the beliefs or aims especially of a political party. In 1848, the Communists released their manifesto; in 1850, the Anarchists released their manifesto. Then came the Fascist Manifesto and manifestoes propagating the right for women to cast votes, proportional representation and minimum wages, etc.,

Political manifestoes are interesting because the electorates get a glimpse of what is in store for them if the party they vote for comes to power. In India, it is even more relevant as the political parties are multiplying fast. According to the Election Commission the total number of parties registered happen to be 2698, with 8 national parties, 52 state parties and 2638 unrecognised parties.

With elections to five State Assemblies imminent, it is time for a shower of manifestoes. Political parties, particularly the regional parties have promised laptops, bicycles, mixers, television sets and even washing machines in the past.

Regional parties and even national parties have promised free electricity, loan waivers, free water, etc. to lure the voters. DMK in Tamil Nadu has released its manifesto this week offering 500 poll promises. The promises include a waiver of education loans (for those under 30). It promises an allocation of Rs 1000 Crores towards renovation and conservation of Hindu temples. The party chief M.K. Stalin announced the party would also allocate Rs 200 Crores for churches and mosques. All these from a party that is considered a party of atheists and agnostics.

I once asked the then Finance Minister Madhu Dandavate how they would achieve the Janata Dal poll promise to waive off Rs 10000 each to farmers. He had smiled sheepishly and said, "We promised because we did not think we will come to power so soon." While offering freebies, the parties do not calculate the cost of implementing them or from where they will find the money.

While some promises like 33 percent reservation for women in legislatures and Parliament are not even discussed, the present government boasts of having fulfilled its pre poll promises like Ram Mandir, abrogation of Article 370 etc. Before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP, in their "Sankalp Patra," assured that it would make India the third-largest economy of the world by 2030. It also promised doubling of farmers' income. The Sankalp Patra had 75 such resolution.

The late Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Ramarao had come up with just a one page manifesto containing promises relating to 'food, clothing, and shelter and won a massive mandate. So it is not the number of pledges a party makes but the intention to fulfill them which matters.

In the United States, the manifestoes are policy-based, generally covering economic policy, foreign policy, healthcare, governance reform, environmental issues, immigration, etc. President Joe Biden even released a separate agenda for Indian Americans during the campaign. In many European countries, manifestos tend to mention more concrete policy choices and their budgetary implications.

It is essential to make political parties accountable for their promises as the manifesto is a kind of political bargain in lieu of votes. Otherwise, it becomes like showing the moon in the mirror. The Election Commission should keep an eye on the nature of manifestoes and make the parties agree to the realities before promising things.

As of now, manifestoes are limited to the paper they are printed on and are rarely realistic. It is for the people to reject unrealistic manifestoes. Political parties too should not shy away from telling the people the liabilities that accompany unrealistic manifestoes. The manifestoes should be legally binding or else they mean nothing.

(IPA Service)

Views expressed are personal

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