May 6, 2023
As Karnataka’s assembly elections are barely a week away, it is time to take a hard look on some of the important issues thrown up by the two major contenders for power – the ruling BJP and opposition Congress.
True, there are three key political players including JD(S), which is often touted as the ‘king-maker’ in the event of a fractured mandate, as the party has played footsie with both the national parties without really bothering about the ideology or principles. But then, except Congress, the other two parties have never crossed the simple majority mark of 113 in the 224 member assembly. The JD(S) has always been a distant third despite all the talk about its ‘Mission 113’.
Therefore, let us concentrate on the manifestos of the two national parties. The BJP, in its manifesto, has among other things promised to bring the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and introduce the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC) besides establishing Karnataka State Wing against Religious Fundamentalism and Terror (K-SWIFT). Though the three proposals are seen as part of BJP’s Hindutva and anti-minority or rather anti-Muslim agenda, they have not generated any heat, as of now anyway.
The Congress, on the other hand, has stirred the hornet’s nest by equating the banned outfit Popular Front of India (PFI) with Sangh Parivar’s Bajrang Dal (BD) and coming out with a resolve to ban organisations that ‘’promote hatred and enmity among majority and minority communities’’ such as PFI and BD. The party has also promised to scrap the National Education Policy (NEP), which ironically was initiated by the Congress-led UPA regime.
Freebies or Revdi?
Of course, the two parties have come up with several freebies, including daily supply of half a litre Nandini Milk and three free LPG cylinders a month plus 5 kgs of millets to each BPL family, and other schemes by BJP.
The Congress sought to pre-empt its rivals by announcing Guarantees with attractive names: Gruha Jyoti for 200 units of free power a month to all domestic users, Gruha Lakshmi of Rs 2000 each per month to each women head of BPL family, Yuva Nidhi offering Rs 3000 each per month to unemployed graduates and Rs 1,500 to unemployed diploma holders, Shakti offering free travel to women in all State-owned transport buses plus Anna Bhagya for 10 kgs of rice to each BPL family, while manifesto has come up with other sops as well.
However, the Congress Guarantees have really taken the wind out of BJP’s sails with no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and others attacking it as ‘’irresponsible’’ while Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and other leaders have dubbed it as ‘’bogus guarantees.’’ KPCC Chief D K Shivakumar, Congress leader Siddaramaiah as well as Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have said the Congress government will take a decision on implementing the guarantees at the first cabinet meeting after election.
Coming back to BJP vs Congress manifestos, one wonders whether BJP’s promises on UCC, NRC and K-SWIFT will make much of a difference to the perception of voters. By the same token, notwithstanding Modi and Bommai as well as other BJP leaders going all out to denounce the Congress equating of PFI with BD and the promise to ban such organisations, and terming BD as the real devotees of the monkey god, Anjaneya or Hanumantha Swamy and Modi ending his election speeches with Jai Bajrang Bali to indicate that Anjaneya is the real servant of Sri Ram, it is doubtful whether the rhetoric will change the outcome.
Some political commentators and those leaning towards BJP and Sangh Parivar contend that the Congress move to ban Bajrang Dal might hurt its chances and, therefore, help BJP. Is that true?
Given the political awareness of Indian voters, it is obvious that voters, by and large, have already made up their mind and are unlikely to be greatly influenced by what is said in the manifesto. At best, it might make a marginal difference in some constituencies as in the present climate of polarisation, based on the religious or caste identities of the people. Besides, there is hardly any point in convincing the already convinced to vote for or against any party.
More importantly, one really wonders whether the political manifestoes or promises made during the election campaign make any impact. It may not be too far off the mark if one were to say that majority of voters – who decide the fate of the candidates in the fray – hardly read the manifestos or, may not have access to them. What the people read is obviously what is reported in the media or seen and heard by the viewers in TV debates or such other talk-shows. In such a case, one can hardly expect the voters to make an informed decision, especially when they do not know what is written in fine print.
Garibi Hatao, Rs 15 lakh to NYAY
However, the people certainly remember catchy slogans like Indira Gandhi’s `Garibi Hatao, Desh Bachao,’ in the 1971 elections after the Congress split. But do people really know what the Congress manifesto for 1971 polls contained? Also, since 2004 almost all parties have been promising to bring 33% women’s reservation in all elected bodies even though women are roughly half the total population and none of the parties are really concerned over the broken promises.
Similarly, in the run-up to the 2014 general election that catapulted Gujarat Chief Minister Modi on the national scene, the slogan of unearthing all the black money and ill-gotten wealth stashed abroad and depositing Rs 15 lakh into the bank into each person’s bank accounts certainly caught the attention of the masses as also the earlier Mandal-Mandir chaos and the Ram Mandir issues that helped the rise of BJP.
But did anybody get Rs 15 lakh in their bank account, nine years down the line since 2014? Did the failure to keep the promise, which Amit Shah later described as ‘Jumla,’ affect Modi’s popularity? BJP had also promised to create 2 crore jobs annually to solve the mounting unemployment problem in the country. Has it been fulfilled and unemployment problem solved or has it gone the way of Garibi Hatao? In fact, BJP under Modi rule gained improved its performance in the 2019 polls.
Further, if manifestos and the announcement of freebies, ridiculed by Modi as ‘Revdi,’ were to really influence the voters, why did the Congress fare miserably in 2019 when the party promised its most ambitious Nyuntam Aay Yojana (Nyay) under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership promising to pay Rs 72,000 per year in cash to 20% poorest of the families in the country?
People often vote on the basis of issues that really matter to their lives or sometimes on emotional issues and they throw out governments on the basis of their performance, which again is perceived mostly through media messaging.
Interestingly, in the 2018 assembly polls, which resulted in a fractured mandate, the BJP had announced a slew of promises including waiver of farm loans and many other things, most of which remained unimplemented when it came to power through the backdoor through its infamous ‘Operation Kamala’ in 2019 under previous Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa or by Bommai. The Congress, particularly former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has been constantly taunting BJP that it did not implement over 90% of the poll promises unlike his Congress regime in 2013 when the 158 out of 165 poll promises were fulfilled. Who will vouch for these claims?
In an ideal situation, manifestos must be held sacrosanct and should help the parties to win public support. After all, democracy is an unwritten social contract between the elected and the ordinary citizens, who vote for them. As long as election manifestos are not treated as legally binding documents, they will be happily forgotten and broken promises will not really bother the powers-that-be.
The big question is: Will it happen and political parties made accountable to deliver on their promises?