Now that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made its manifesto for the 2014 Parliamentary elections in India public, we are in a position to make a comparative reading of manifestos of three most prominent parties in the fray at the national level, namely the BJP, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
While manifestos are largely ritualistic exercises, they are also the most important documents that declare the intentions of the political outfits, besides other statements of the party leaders and track records of the parties and their leaders. These documents need to be read and interpreted, both in terms of the promises that they make as also the roadmaps that the parties provide to achieve the promises.
I begin with a comment on the BJP manifesto, since all opinion polls give the party an edge over others, though it is well known that opinion polls are largely doctored exercises and have proved wrong many a time. The overall impression that the BJP manifesto gives is one of arrogance: both in terms of its timing and the content of the document.
The BJP manifesto reads more like a laundry list of feel good factors, without any roadmap as to how the party hopes to achieve the listed objectives. The fact that the party came out with its manifesto when voting in the first phase of the elections was already underway, signals that it is not bothered to tell people why they should vote for them.
The Congress manifesto, covering 52 pages, provides more detail about the specific issues listed, but is not written in a particularly imaginative style; nor does it make any attempt at addressing the negativity that has been generated around its performance over the last decade. In that sense, the Congress party’s manifesto is a bureaucratic document that makes for somewhat boring reading. It also fails to provide the big picture or a big vision.
The AAP manifesto at 28 pages is more interesting as it is not written as a marketing product pamphlet. It starts with a section on Jan Lokpal, their main plank, and tries to answer why people should vote for AAP. The highlight of the manifesto is the thrust of the party on giving Gram Sabhas and Mohalla Sabhas a decisive say in all matters at their respective levels and in overall governance.
This is a major departure from the other two manifestos, besides their apparently more serious and convincing emphasis on tackling corruption and crony capitalism as compared with the other two parties. However, while it is more elaborate than the BJP and Congress manifestos in describing how the party seeks to change governance in India, it seems less comprehensive in other respects.
Another lacuna of the AAP manifesto’s PDF file is that it is not searchable, unlike the other two manifestos.
Thus having taken a look at the bigger impression created, let us now look at some specific issues that we are concerned about.
The BJP manifesto seems to have a poor understanding of the scope of ‘Natural Resources’. The manifesto lists only coal, minerals and spectrum among natural resources. The most important natural resources – namely land, forests, rivers, water sources and biodiversity – are not even listed. It seems the party is only interested in commodities directly marketable in the equity market, those that their industry friends are interested in. Interestingly, the section starts with Gandhi’s famous quote on ‘need vs greed’, but there is no reflection of this principle in what has been said here.
The Congress manifesto talks about “establishment of a clearly defined policy for fair, transparent, equitable and time bound development of natural resources. The Indian National Congress will immediately put in place a Special Purpose Vehicle for this.” The fact that this comes under the section on industries does not inspire much confidence.
The AAP has a section on natural resources that does include water and forests among natural resources along with major minerals and provides a pivotal role for the Gram Sabhas, without whose consent, decisions about exploitation of such major natural resources cannot be taken. The ownership of the minor natural resources remains with the Gram Sabhas in the AAP scheme of things.
The BJP section on this issue has an interesting heading: “Flora, Fauna and Environment – Safeguarding Our Tomorrow”. However, the section or the rest of the document does not tell us anything about how they are going to improve environmental governance in India or whether they even feel the need to do so.
On the contrary, by stating under the ‘Industry’ section that it intends to “frame the environment laws in a manner that provides no scope for confusion and will lead to speedy clearance of proposals without delay” and by talking about single window and speedy clearance elsewhere, it has made clear its understanding and where it intends to go. This could be disastrous for India’s environment and environmental governance.
The Congress manifesto claims that it intends to set up a National Environment Appraisal and Monitoring Authority. However, as Supreme Court judges promptly remarked, this is actually an order of the Supreme Court and the Congress had no business putting it on their manifesto. Moreover, the Congress lacks credibility on this given the fact that Jairam Ramesh was removed from the environment ministry when he proposed this, and his successor did nothing to implement this.
Moreover, the environment ministry under UPA II actually filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that it is not possible to set up such an authority with any teeth. The relatively recent appointment of Union Oil Minister Veerappa Moily as Environment Minister despite the obvious conflict of interest, and the actions that Moily has been taking since, such as pushing the disastrous Yettinahole Diversion Project to benefit his parliamentary constituency in Karnataka, takes away any credibility the party may have had.
It is true that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is a major contribution of the UPA in this respect, but that, too, came about largely due to Ramesh as his successor ministers tried their best to scuttle the functioning of the NGT.
The AAP manifesto talks about reforming the “Ministry of Environment and Forests and its agencies so that they can empower and facilitate Gram Sabhas to be effective custodians and managers of their local natural resources.” This is certainly welcome but there is insufficient detail on how this will be achieved. Their clubbing of ‘ecology’ and ‘economy’ in one section sounds promising at one level, but again there is not enough to suggest how this will be implemented without allowing ecology to be subservient to economic interests.
It is well known that Inter Linking of Rivers (ILR) is high on the agenda of the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate. However, for reasons not clear, they have played down ILR in the manifesto, saying, “Inter-linking of rivers based on feasibility.” Possibly they do not want to raise hackles prematurely.
However, the Narmada Kshipra link that was recently inaugurated and the track record of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere seem to suggest that BJP state governments are working at cross purposes with the national ILR plan.
The BJP manifesto also says that the party commits to ensure the cleanliness, purity and uninterrupted flow of the Ganga on priority,” but that is hardly helpful since no roadmap to achieve this has been shared. Moreover, this intentionally ignores the three biggest threats that the Ganga and other rivers face: dams & hydropower projects, urban and industrial pollution, and encroachment. The BJP manifesto is silent on all these three threats to the river.
On the issue of river pollution, the only thing the party manifesto condescends to inform readers is that “a massive ‘Clean Rivers Programme’ will be launched across the country driven by people’s participation.” No details again. Even on the issue of seemingly unsolvable urban water pollution, the only solution the party can offer is more sewage treatment plants, choosing to ignore that existing STPs are non-functional in most of the places.
Interestingly, the BJP manifesto does have a section on North East India (unlike the other two manifestos) and mentions the problem of floods in Assam and promises to tackle the river, but without specifying how.
It is worth noting in this context that when Narendra Modi visited North East India in general and Arunachal Pradesh in particular, he did not mention either ILR or large hydropower projects in that region, knowing well that local sentiment is strongly against both. However, Modi, while proposing his national energy plan in Madhya Pradesh in March 2014, mentioned that North East India is heaven for hydropower projects! The manifesto again is expectedly silent on this issue.
The Congress manifesto says that “The National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) has begun the ambitious task of cleaning the Ganga River. We will use similar models of creating empowered, well-funded agencies to clean other major rivers in the country”.
Now, this sounds mindless and incredible! NGRBA, in the five years since it was notified, has been the most ineffective, non-transparent institution that has achieved no change in the state of the river. How can such an institution be used as a model for other rivers? The authors of the Congress manifesto seem to be completely ill-informed on this score.
The AAP manifesto has nothing on rivers: a critical omission in the manifesto.
The BJP manifesto promises piped water supply to all households, irrespective of whether all households need it or whether it is feasible or appropriate, or not. The BJP manifesto asserts that there will be a 50-per cent gap between demand and supply of water in India by 2050. This is totally off the mark, because according to the Government of India’s National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development, the country’s water requirement will match the available resources in 2050, even if one considers high growth trajectory.
The BJP manifesto writers seem to have no clue about these realities, or they are just trying to project a greater market for water companies. There is one promise in this regard that is welcome: “We will promote decentralized, demand-driven, community-managed water resource management, water supply and environmental sanitation.” However, how they will promote this is not specified. Moreover, this promise remains unconvincing given their talk about river linking.
The Congress manifesto talks about adding one crore hectares in gross irrigated area in the 12th Plan, two years of which are already over! It clearly looks impossible, but more importantly, the manifesto does not say how they will achieve it.
Both Congress and BJP manifestos talk about water conserving irrigation techniques, which actually seem to be scam ridden and affected by crony capitalism. The Congress manifesto also talks about increasing irrigation efficiency and water use efficiency in general, but without any concrete plans. More worryingly, the UPA government has pushed the proposal to allow Jain Irrigation (the biggest private supplier of drop and sprinkler systems) to set up the National Bureau of Water Efficiency! Crony capitalism?
The AAP manifesto talks about giving priority to watershed development to reduce pressure on big irrigation projects, but fails to take an informed and prudent stand on performance of big irrigation projects. This is certainly a major let down of the AAP manifesto.
Urban water issues
There is nothing noteworthy in the BJP manifesto in this regard, even as it plans to prioritise Urban Development. It appears to have no clue about how to tackle urban waste water as it only talks about more STPs, even when existing STPs are not working, including in Modi’s Gujarat.
The Congress manifesto talks about continuing the problematic Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission on which over Rs 70000 crore have already been spent, mostly on urban water issues, without any attempt at democratic governance, local water options, demand side management or recycling and reuse of treated sewage. This is creating havoc on surrounding areas with displacement of tribals, destruction of forests and construction of unjustifiable dams. But it seems Congress is least bothered about it.
The problem is so acute that some 18000 people in Thane to be displaced by the Kalu dam meant for Mumbai have decided to boycott the polls, since the dam is being taken up without any clearances and even after all the gram sabhas have passed resolutions against it. The writing is clear on the walls for the Congress.
The only positive aspect in this regard in the AAP manifesto is the proposed empowerment of Mohalla Sabhas. Let us hope they are able to show how this will work.
It is interesting to see that climate change as an issue has been recognised by both the BJP and Congress in their manifestos, but what they say in that respect is disappointing in both cases. The BJP manifesto talks about launching a National Mission on the Himalayan Ecosystem, but there is already an existing one, which is supposed to be under implementation for some years, but no one seems to know what it is doing! The BJP Manifesto also talks about a programme devised to arrest melting of Himalayan glaciers, but no such programme is known of.
The Congress manifesto promises continued implementation of the National Action Plan on Climate Change even when the plan and its mission stand discredited, along with the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change. These are the things that make the Congress manifesto sound so bureaucratic.
The AAP manifesto seems silent on climate change.
It is welcome to note that the BJP manifesto talks about promoting small hydro with local support and without displacement. However, it is not welcome that there is no mention of big hydro and big dams. Their promise to push infrastructure development in Arunachal Pradesh without any mention of participatory decision making by the local communities is likely to raise suspicion that the push will be for big hydro there. The manifesto is also silent about promoting solar power projects at the household level.
The Congress manifesto is also silent on the latter though It does talk about giving new thrust to small hydro under new and renewable energy sources. But these projects need meticulous social and environmental impact assessment, on which the manifesto is silent.
The AAP manifesto is the only one that does talk about pushing decentralized renewable energy plants, which is welcome.
The scary part about the BJP manifesto in this regard is that tribal development in India will be pushed along the lines of what has been achieved in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh! If this is the tribal development model for tribals in other areas, tribals all over India need to be very wary of this party.
The Congress manifesto is, strangely, silent on their commitment to implement the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act.The AAP manifesto does make such a commitment in this respect and that is most welcome.
This is possibly the only useful thing for tribals among all three manifestos, in addition to the heartening fact that AAP provides separate sections for tribals, for scheduled castes and also for Valmikis, unlike the BJP and Congress manifestos that have basically clubbed all under one category.
It is apt that the last page of the BJP manifesto says “Time for Modi” and not for BJP! The Congress manifesto on its last page shows Rahul Gandhi sitting with urban youth. This appeal will have limited catchment. The last page of AAP manifesto asks voters in Hindi to vote for the honest party.
Let us hope voters everywhere will do just that.