Of promises and manifestos

February 13, 2022

As the BJP makes new promises with its election manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh polls, the deeply troubling sociopolitical and economic backdrop becomes all the more apparent

Indian Prime Minister Modi and chief of the ruling party Amit Shah display copies of the BJPs election manifesto — image courtesy Reuters
Indian Prime Minister Modi and chief of the ruling party Amit Shah display copies of the BJP's election manifesto — image courtesy Reuters

So, after five years in power with a comprehensive majority, the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) has launched its new election manifesto in the run up to the elections in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). The state, is seen as the heart of Indian politics as well as the core of BJP’s Hindutva politics. Let’s give a quick look at some of its promises.

The manifesto promises free electricity for irrigation tube wells to farmers in the next five years; a strengthening of wheat and paddy purchases through increased minimum support price (MSP); payment of interest by sugar mills in case of a delay in payment to the sugarcane farmers; measures to make meritorious girl students self-reliant through distribution of free scooters, tablets (20 million) and smartphones; and a provision of 10-year imprisonment and Rs 100,000 fine for those guilty of Love-Jihad (only those living in certain parts of India can understand the coinage). The BJP is also promising Rs 10 trillion investment proposals over five years. Besides, it has promised to open six mega food and health parks and a leather park in the city of Kanpur. The party has said that it will start three modern data centres and six mega industrial parks for small and medium industries. It has also promised to facilitate self-employment for 1 million youth through its Start Up mission.

Now, any analysis of the election-day promises has to make a comparison with those made by other political parties in the fray and a reality check in terms of the party’s past performance, especially if it has ruled the state in recent years. So, before we come to its manifesto performance vis-à-vis other parties, let’s look at some hard data.

Uttar Pradesh’s per capita income was barely half (Rs 41,023) of India’s average (Rs 86,659) in 2019-20. The per capita income of UP (at 2011-12 prices) is ranked 32 out of 36 states and Union Territories. Official estimates are that the gross state domestic product (GSDP) of UP grew at a compound growth rate of only 1.95 percent per annum over 2017-21. In contrast, the growth rate was 6.92 percent over 2012-17 during the previous state government. Overall, unemployment increased 2.5 times and youth unemployment by nearly 5 times compared to 2012. Admittedly, this has something to do with the onset of Covid and resultant lockdown of the economy. However, then to claim through full page advertisements across all the national dailies and other media channels, that 400,000 government jobs have been created since 2017, will be disingenuous. In fact, when information was sought through RTI (Right to Information Act) channels about which departments of UP government that provided these jobs, the petitioners were told that the relevant departments/government agencies were unable to provide this information, since they did not have it. It is no wonder then that street protests by hundreds of thousands of job seekers in the railway services and resultant police repression making national headlines, have touched a raw nerve.

And now, the BJP is building onto the previous claims with new promises about jobs, investments and what not, especially in the context when India has seen a massive collapse of micro, small and medium industries, among the largest provider of the jobs. It must be, of course, kept in mind that the BJP is the ruling party at the Centre too, under which the country has seen the first negative growth and the largest fall in employment rates since independence.

Barely six months ago, the world was scandalised by pictures of half-eaten corpses along the river Ganga in the wake of the second catastrophic wave of the ongoing Covid pandemic.

Promises to girls and women have been driven in part by a progressive manifesto of the Congress Party, which is focusing its campaign on women. It has promised smartphones for girls in Class 12, scooties for women pursuing graduation, free public transport for women, three free gas cylinders a year to every woman, free medical treatment of up to Rs 1 million per family for all diseases, and special incentives and tax exemptions to businesses having more women in the workforce than men. This is crucial as it isn’t simply a battle about outsmarting each other, but it also indicates how seriously women as a distinct political constituency have emerged in the recent years.

The backdrop of the manifesto is clearly visible in these promises. Take, for example, the largest running farmers’ movement in the recent history that finally forced the Modi government to roll back its three farm laws. The laws that not only riled the farmers of western Uttar Pradesh bringing the politically significant Hindu and Muslim Jat farming communities together after the last fall out post-Muzaffarnagar riots. In fact, in the aftermath of deliberate mowing down of farmers in the terai belt of Lakhimpur Kheri by a son of a BJP minister, the party has further alienated the community. While the attempt through these renewed promises is to assuage some of the very recent wounds, the question remains moot whether the party has been forgiven not just for the laws, but also for calling the agitating farmers anti-nationals.

In recent years, various BJP watchers and political scientists have admired BJP’s ingenuity in breaking the back of Other Backward Class (OBC) and Dalit caste politics in the state by carving out non-Jatav dalit votes and non-Yadav OBC votes under a singular umbrella of aspirational Hindutva. But the recent exodus of some of the tallest state OBC leaders on the eve of elections, does show that there is a difference between symbolic unification and substantive unification of Hindutva politics. The latter is still not an established fact. Similarly, the state has seen some of the ghastliest caste repression and violence against women in the recent years: The Hathras rape and subsequent murder of a Dalit girl or the rape of another girl in Unnao allegedly at the hands of a BJP legislator and the subsequent killing of many around her family.

Barely six months ago, the world was scandalised by pictures of half-eaten corpses along the river Ganga in the wake of the second catastrophic wave of the ongoing Covid pandemic. One wonders whether that terrifying memory has been obliterated so quickly and so swiftly. So, what is left for a state that has been ranked the worst-governed big state by independent think-tanks, faring lowest on almost all the development parameters? Of course, a renewed and rejuvenated attempt at anti-Muslim Hindutva politics. Hence, desperate attempts to build onto the slogan of Love-Jihad to target Muslim youth, extra-judicial killings by the police in fake encounters in the name of fighting crime (again primarily Muslims), and continued persecution of Muslims after their mass protest post-Citizenship Amendment Act, is what you are left with. Not to forget the hubris of Ram Rajya with the inauguration of a Ram temple.

Will that be enough, is the question for all of us.

The author has been in the development sector for more than a decade and currently works with an international non-governmental organisation based in Delhi. He may be reached at: avinashcold@gmail.com

Of promises and manifestos