The Manifesto

The Manifesto drafting committee of Congress seems to have laboured very hard to prove their point that Indian National Congress is the only party that has 'something to offer to all'. The Committee took trouble between October 2018 and February 2019 to conduct 121 public consultations in 53 sessions with farmers, teachers, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers and economists in 24 states and 3 union territories. They also talked to NRI representatives from 12 countries. The Manifesto, otherwise a voluminous blueprint for action, is a policy declaration of Congress if they are voted to power. Rahul Gandhi's foreword is more like a desperate appeal to the voters urging them to make a break from the past. But very few Congress activists, not to speak of concerned voters, would like to go through such an 'epic size pamphlet' that deals with every aspect of governance. The Manifesto claims that the ensuing electoral battle for 17th parliament is between two ideologies: that the RSS ideology pursued by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is working overtime to destroy the very 'idea of India' is a fact of life. The saffronites are out to build India of their own—a hindu India with a fascist ideology to rule the country. But the Manifesto makers have not clarified in clear terms what is the Congress ideology that defines the 'idea of India' in a different way.

No doubt the Modi regime is synonymous with grandiose promises, empty slogans, failed programmes, false statistics and an overall climate of fear, intimidation and hatred. But Congress too is still vague about how to reverse the disastrous impact of neo-liberal economic policies which Modi in reality borrowed from the erstwhile Congress regime and implemented them with aggression as per demand of the corporate lobby. The Manifesto promises jobs to youth. But everybody is doing so without explaining how they will create it. They are assuring hope to farmers. They think traders will get business and prosper under the Congress rule though GST was originally their idea. They also guarantee traditional rights of deprived communities. But in Congress-ruled states traditional rights are hardly honoured. Not very long ago innocent civilians including children were killed by the police of the Congress ruled Chattisgarh state. The Congress Manifesto says that it is an action plan for the future of India. They identify the Modi regime with fear, hatred, exclusion, oppression and injustice. There is no point of disagreement with this observation. But in yester years the Congress rule didn't stand for freedom, harmony, inclusion, dignity, prosperity and justice for all. All parties promise justice, rather social justice and after coming to power allow injustice to perpetuate—injustice is somewhat endemic in the system.

For the first time Congress admitted the draconian nature of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad while addressing the aggrieved in Kashmir defended his party's Manifesto seeking review of AFSPA and its role in gross human rights violations. For one thing Azad's party in the Manifesto promises to review a whole range of laws, rules and regulations with a view to safe-guarding Constitutional values. AFSPA and Disturbed Area Act are in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) for the last 30 years. How this law has devastated and ruined hundreds of thousands of families is now a source of international outcry. Azad was candid enough to admit a tragic event during his tenure of chief ministership—'even policemen, let alone regular troops, killed 3 wage labourers and dubbed them as Pakistanis, to get promotion and reward'.

Review of AFSPA doesn't mean the end of army brutalities. What the people of J&K need is end of martial rule, freedom of speech and dignity. Violation of human rights is a general issue affecting the poor and marginalised across the country. Voice of dissent is being crushed with iron hands even where AFSPA is not in force. Even as Azad was addressing an election rally in Kashmir the authorities closed the National Highway which is called the life-line for J&K people, for two days to facilitate troops movement. For one thing this highway was not closed even during the Kargil war and people were allowed to do their normal business. Close on the heels of Congress party's promise to review AFSPA the Modi government quickly removed AFSPA partially though, from Arunachal Pradesh, 32 years after it was imposed in the region. In other words the administration can function without this oppressive law otherwise the Ministry of Home Affairs didn't act so quickly to offset Congress Party's move in Kashmir. The Justice B P Jeevan Reddy committee had recommended scraping of AFSPA from the state. But the government is still reluctant to do so. They are removing it partially to score a point over Congress in the ensuing electoral fight. Under this obnoxious Act the security forces can arrest anyone and carry out searches on any premises without any notice. For the AFSPA to become vaild, an area, however, needs to be declared disturbed either by the Central or the State Government under section 3 of the 1958 Act. Now an area can be declared disturbed under any pretext.

AFSPA is no cure for militancy, in reality it has aggravated the 'disease'. The world now knows the inhuman treatment associated with this act after Irom Sharmila's historic hunger strike. Nobody expects much from Congress party's written statement that they will initiate a comprehensive review of all laws, rules and regulations to repeal instruments that are outdated or unjust or unreasonably restrict the freedom of people. Even if they are not voted to power they are now morally bound at least to agitate over human rights violations. Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party has released its 45-page election manifesto with a lot of fanfare only to make fresh pledges to keep old ones alive. In truth the BJP document is a factsheet to glorify Modi's achievements.


Vol. 51, No. 41, Apr 14 - 20, 2019