CNBC TV18 Column: The BJP Manifesto

The BJP Manifesto, in CNBC TV18

BJP Manifesto

It is election season and therefore manifesto season. This is the time, once in five years, that political parties demonstrate their vision for the country, and ask us for votes on the basis this vision. The Indian National Congress launched its manifesto a few days ago, and it’s cornerstone was the introduction of the Minimum Income Guarantee Programme – NYAY. However, the BJP manifesto is conspicuous in the absence of the one big idea. But, it does have a smattering of smaller ideas scattered through the manifesto. So what does the BJP manifesto hold?

The manifesto is bookended by two core ideas at the beginning and the end of the document- the first is security, the last is culture, and everything else is between these two guiding principles.

. At the top is the concept of “Nation First” and the focus on security, and law and order. There are policy statements on the approach to terrorism – zero tolerance. The manifesto refers to the post Uri, and Balakot actions and says that their zero tolerance approach is “exempli􀂪ed by the  Surgical Strikes and the Air Strikes carried out recently.” There are promises of modernising the police force, strengthening the BSF and the armed forces. There is also a clear statement against Naxal terror, where the party promises to combat Left Wing Extremism. However, there is no mention of the rise right wing violence, nor is there a mention of the myriad lynchings and a promise to curb this.

The other end of the manifesto is the promise of cultural revivalism. Top of this list, as it has been for many BJP manifestos, is the promise to build the Ram Mandir “within the framework of the Constitution”. But more interesting than the Ram Mandir, are the other promises. The party has made “Conserving Bharatiya faith and culture”  a core part of its promises. With this is also linked its promise to revive and promote Sanskrit across schools.

There are also 75 milestones to be achieved by the 75th anniversary of independence. A set of goals and targets for the Government to try and meet. Many of these are economic goals – the doubling of farmers income by 2020, ensuring a pucca home for every family, improving the ease of doing business and the like.

The core of the BJP manifesto, on the economy, is tucked away in the centre of the document. And, this is the vision to make India into the 3rd largest economy in the world -“US $ 5 trillion economy by 2025 and US $ 10 trillion economy by 2032”.  This includes a Rs. 100 lakh crore investment in India’s sagging infrastructure to bring it up to the standards of the modern age. However, this is little mention of the 100 smart cities that featured so prominently in the last manifesto, and a source of so much buzz.

The BJP manifesto is moderate on detail, and low on vision. It is the manifesto of a party that is sure that it will come back to power, and the promises are a continuation of what is already there. It completely ignores some of the older planks on which the party came to power – Smart Cities, for example, finds no mention. Given that it was such a vital part of the BJP’s poll promises in 2014, and given the fanfare with which it was announced, and it has been given a quiet and unceremonious burial. Also missing is any mention of the other plank of this government’s actions in the last 5 years – demonetisation. The manifesto suffers from amnesia when it comes to this topic.

If you have to sum up the BJP manifesto for a social media audience it would be Ram Mandir, Infrastructure, and Nation First. And the rest is singularly unimaginative. It seems like a manifesto put together from old power point slides, with no one taking care of proofing or integrating the content. However, as it has been pointed out many times, only journalists and columnists read party manifestos. But, it does tend to give a sense of the direction in which a party is moving. Will it be enough to swing the polls – the next six weeks will tell us that?

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