Lok Sabha Polls 2019: Election sans issues

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The election time is show time. All those who are in the election fray – political parties and candidates- try to woo the voters with new promises. Recently, two major national parties in the country – Congress and BJP presented their election manifestos. Past experiences show that the promises made in election manifestos may be real in some cases and away from the reality in most cases.

The Congress party released its manifesto first, on April 3, and made several tall promises in it. The most talked about of these is the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) under which Rs. 72,000/year will be transferred to the poorest 20 per cent house-holds in India. After several promises in the Congress manifesto, a similar expectation was there from the BJP manifesto, which was released on April 8. It, however, is not harping so much on development as it did in 2014. Many past promises of the BJP are incorporated by the Congress with a renewed stress on improving the delivery system. In tune with the campaign, BJP is focussing on issues that would boost up its ‘nationalistic’ approach. It harps on the Jan Sangh’s Article 35A, 370, Kashmir and panders to religious sentiments, not through Lord Ram, but through National Register of Citizens (NRC) – reviving the sentiments of the partition.

The BJP manifesto is light on legal reforms, whether in terms of legislation, policy proposals or judicial reforms. May be, the 2014 document had overdose of it, as the Narendra Modi government repealed 1200 redundant laws. In contrast, Congress proposes 14 new legal reforms.

BJP, like the Congress, is also promising financial assistance to farmers. It has already transferred Rs. 2000 of the Rs. 6000 a year, promised to them. Now it promises Rs. 25 lakh crore investments in agri-rural sector. It looks attractive but the mode of raising funds is not discussed. Obviously, the government does not have that kind of money and for the past many years any investment for the farm sector has come through bank credit. Now banks cannot be further stressed. Corporate investment has been minimal. Depositors are at a crisis as their interest accruals have come down and tax components have increased. But no one seems to be bothered about it.

The manifesto’s stress to turn the country into a defence production hub is yet to be understood. It will have massive investments but no one discusses the criticality of military productions. Would it also cause problems that the US and many western countries are afflicted with?

In 2014, the BJP had promised abolition or maximum relaxation in income-tax rates. It did only partially in 2019 budget by raising the limit to Rs 5 lakh. But those above it would not have any benefit as taxes would be calculated at the threshold limit of Rs 2.5 lakh plus standard deduction. The new manifesto again says that taxes would be relooked into. But the way the party in 2014 promised to do away with road toll on private vehicles and later reneged, has not caused enthusiasm. Demonestisation does not find a mention. Politically it should have stressed on its benefits.

Somehow, Odisha’s Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA)  scheme has its echo in the manifesto. The BJP promises to take care of pension for farmers, shopkeepers and has already introduced in the budget pension for unorganized workers. The welfare schemes are good but its economic costs certainly are not estimated during poll time.

The poll time is also the time to discuss critical issues. But the Election Commission (EC) has sanitised the campaign to such an extent that parties are neither approaching voters neither they are discussing problems. The process stymies democratic discussion. That is possibly the reason for low turn-out in the first phase of polls. Voters apparently are feeling cut-off.

Winning the poll battle is not enough. Welfare economics charms but is devoid of hard realities. Contesting a key election without national policies on jobs, farms, industrial production, low inflation and sound financial institutions may prove to be costly. Post-poll the path has to change.

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