BJP’s long-awaited ‘please-all’ manifesto, with its focus on creating economic growth and reining in inflation, as also a less aggressive approach to its core issues of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, came even as electors across five constituencies in Assam and one in Tripura queued up at polling booths to cast their votes.
The manifesto has tried to reach all stakeholders. To the corporate sector, it has promised an end to “tax terrorism”, cutting red tape and framing environment laws in a way that leaves no scope for “confusion and leads to speedy clearance of proposals without delay”.
It has reiterated opposition to foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, invited FDI in select defence areas and opposed entry of genetically-modified crops without proper scientific studies. It has committed itself to increasing job opportunities, making India a manufacturing hub, initiating a massive investment in a low-cost housing programme, starting a ‘Sagarmala’ project to connect ports, setting up gas grids, and building ‘Brand India’ with 5Ts of tradition, talent, tourism, trade and technology.
They pointed out the crucial difference between this one and BJP’s manifestos of 2009 and 2014 (both prepared by Joshi) was that the latest version incorporated much of Modi’s “vision speech” at the BJP’s National Council meeting of January 20.
He said the function should have been shorter, comprising the manifesto release and a speech by Modi on his vision for India. Advani had spoken at the very end of the 90-minute ceremony and after Joshi, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh and Modi.
In a speech that most in the party later termed as hyperbole and dripping with sarcasm, Advani termed the entire exercise, from the naming of BJP’s PM candidate to preparation of the manifesto and the shape of the election campaign, “unprecedented” and “free of any blemish”. He said this had given him the kind of “happiness” he had never experienced, right from the days of the first election in 1952 to the 16th Lok Sabha elections.
At the launch, Modi termed the manifesto a “bouquet”, where people might get whatever fragrance suited their need. He promised India’s people he would work for them to the best of his ability, never work for personal aggrandisement. And, possibly in an outreach to some of his current electoral opponents but potential allies, he said he wouldn’t take decisions out of revenge.
The event was marked by the bonhomie that Modi and Rajnath shared through the ceremony, leaning towards each other and constantly smiling and chattering away, even as Joshi continued with his long speech on manifesto contents. Advani and Swaraj sat quietly on the other side of Modi.
As for the party’s manifesto, it is not only different from the rights-based approach in principal rival Congress’ manifesto but also from BJP’s 2009 version, also drafted under Joshi’s chairmanship. The current manifesto has only a page on the issues of national security and terrorism, unlike the prominence the two received in the 2009 version.
Party sources said Joshi, who headed the 17-member manifesto committee, wrote the document’s preface dated March 26 but the manifesto was unveiled a fortnight later was an evidence how the first version went through several changes in the past two weeks. Modi’s ‘vision’ has not only been accommodated but has overwhelmed Joshi’s earlier draft.
Joshi, however, disagreed with the assessment that there was any friction between his brand of swadeshi and Modi’s push to look for more modern solutions to India’s problems. “Swadeshi doesn’t mean returning to bullock carts. Please do not confuse the swadeshi of the Indian independence movement with that of a forward-marching free India,” he said.
He denied the criticism that it was a ‘Modifesto’, saying views of several party leaders like Arun Jaitley, Yashwant Singh and Rajnath Singh had also been taken. Besides, he said, the opinion of over a hundred thousand people from across India had been included in the manifesto. He termed it “mischievous and tendentious” to describe the document as ‘Modifesto’, claiming it was a collective exercise.
In his speech, party president Rajnath Singh said some political groups had prophesied BJP would become an “untouchable” when the party announced Modi’s name as its prime ministerial candidate in September, and that Modi had suffered the most sustained attack launched against any political leader since independence. But, Singh said, destiny today was propelling Modi to the top job and BJP had as many as 25 allies from across the country.
Swaraj said the Congress manifesto on its first page declared the party’s zero aversion to FDI while believing in taking this country forward with the enterprise of Indians. “Their entire vision is based on the crutches of FDI, while ours stands on originality of Indian industry and its capital,” she said.
The manifesto reaches out to potential post-poll regional allies as well. Significant points include BJP’s promise to set up a price-stabilisation fund to check inflation, promote labour-intensive manufacturing and tourism, as well as infrastructure and housing to create employment, end “tax terrorism” by rationalising and simplifying tax regime, set up a task force to recommend changes in law to bring back black money stashed abroad, among other things.
The document reflects Modi’s vision of more powers to states, with its concept of ‘Team India’ model of national development to be driven by states. The team will include the PM, as also chief ministers, as “equal partners”. It is silent on any Gujarat model of development, and talks of creating regional councils of state with common problems and concerns with an aim to seek specific solutions.
The manifesto has hinted at special packages for eastern states, possibly in an effort to reach out to potential allies. The manifesto has recognised the region as having lagged behind western India. It has promised “special focus and emphasis on the development of the eastern side of India”.
On FDI, the manifesto says “barring the multi-brand retail sector, FDI will be allowed wherever needed for job and asset creation, infrastructure and acquisition of niche technology and specialised expertise”. The manifesto, said the party, was committed to protecting the interest of small and medium retailers, SMEs and those employed by them.
Joshi later told reporters the manifesto would be a BJP-led government’s guiding philosophy and it was for the government, if it wished, to repeal the provision enabling state governments to decide on FDI in multi-brand retail.
He also said a BJP-led government would do away with retrospective taxes. To a question on whether a BJP-led government would repeal the UPA’s ordinance on multi-brand retail FDI, Joshi said a BJP-led government would certainly review and change anything that might dent job opportunities, had a negative impact on the economy and denied modernisation in the retail sector.
The manifesto has said that “Genetically-modified foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation on longer effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers”, proposed a National Land Use Authority, spoken of identifying 100 most-backward districts, restructuring of the University Grants Commission (UGC), universal secondary education and health-sector reforms.
Other important proposals include banking reforms, linking the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) to agriculture, Organic Farming and Fertilizer Corporation of India promoting organic farming, a National Mission on Himalayas and a central university on dedicated to study Himalayan technology.
Of its old planks, BJP has somewhat nuanced its approach on Article 370. It has talked of abrogating the constitutional provision and open the door to “discuss this with all stakeholders”. The manifesto has included party’s core concerns like the Ram temple issue and a uniform civil code as well. Joshi asserted Hindutva was never an issue of elections but a cultural one.
The document has promised to revive anti-terror mechanisms dismantled by the Congress, indicating the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (Pota) might be back. It says “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here”.
In the area of nuclear energy, BJP believes the Congress “frittered away” the gains acquired during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule on nuclear programme and committed to follow an independent nuclear programme, “revise and update India’s nuclear doctrine” to make it relevant to challenges of current times.
At the release function, Modi said the manifesto rested on two main subjects — good governance and development. He added development should “touch all sections, embrace all, think of all regions, and have everybody’s support”. He said good governance meant a government that should heed the needs of the poor and the exploited, as it was the poor whose only support system was the government — whether to meet his need to educate his children or get his elderly parents medical treatment.
Highlights of the BJP manifesto
- Lowering banks’ NPAs
- Ending ‘tax terrorism’ and uncertainty, improving investment climate
- Reducing fiscal deficit
- 50% profit on cost of agricultural production
- Linking NREGS to agriculture
- Organic Farming and Fertilizer Corporation of India to promote organic farming
- Making doing business easy by reducing red tape
- Task force to review and revive the MSME sector
- Framing environment laws to end confusion and accelerate clearance to proposals
- Making India a hub for cost-competitive labour-intensive mass manufacturing
- Interest-rate rationalisation and clear tax policy
- Mechanism to ensure Centre and states work in close coordination for project clearances
- Low-cost housing programme
- Project to connect ports
- Interlinking of rivers
- National mission on Himalayas, Himalayan sustainability fund, central university dedicated to Himalayan technology
- Reviving anti-terrorism mechanisms dismantled by Congress
- FDI in select defence industries
- Universal secondary education
- Overhauling UGC