Manifesto Guarantee Deconstructed

Arun Kumar

The last decade points to the individualisation of decision making in India leading to huge problems. As can be expected, these go unmentioned in the manifesto – after all the manifesto is supposed to create a feel good factor in the nation. The end result of ‘Modi’s guarantee’ could be contrary to the promises.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) manifesto titled “Modi ki Guarantee 2024” promises much. It implies a guarantee that soon all will be well because of Narendra Modi. It reflects a) the state of affairs in the BJP and b) its reading of people’s mood.

It implies that people have more faith in Modi than in the party. Does this reflect the failure of the party? Like in a presidential form of election, vote is sought in the name of a leader, Modi.

The contrast with the Congress manifesto, titled, `Nyay Patra’, promising justice to all, is stark. The BJP manifesto too promises justice. But, one depends on faith in an individual’s guarantee while the other seeks to deliver through strengthening society’s institutional setting. The instrumentality proposed by the two political parties is diametrically opposite.

This difference in the underlying mechanisms of social transformation matter for the kind of democracy that will be nurtured in India. Democracy strengthens when there is proper institutional functioning. It will weaken further if the institutions are undermined by the promise of a guarantee of a powerful individual. Even the political party he heads will be undermined and democracy will weaken. This has been visible over the last decade when the façade of democracy has been used to undermine it. Modi’s manifesto is in this mould.

The Broad Framework of the BJP Manifesto

Like in any good manifesto, there is something for all the constituents of society – farmers, workers, women, youth, Dalits, senior citizens and so on. It addresses the major concerns – poverty, employment, inflation, inequality, development, prosperity, dignity, education, health, sports, technology and so on. After all, any economy consists of tens of thousands of activities and one can list them to present a positive picture of past and future achievements.  

But, can mere listing be adequate to address the concerns and the constituencies? It does not guarantee action or achievement of goals. The goals may not be achieved if funds allocated are inadequate. Even if allocations are sufficient, contradictions with other programme can come in the way of achieving the goal. For example, if Rs 60,000 crore is allotted to MGNREGS to  create employment but if the capital expenditure of Rs 11.11 lakh crore is  allotted to capital intensive schemes, the problem of employment generation will not get resolved.

The point is not listing/completeness but consistency among the various parts – a holistic vision is required. Next, resources can never be enough to achieve all the goals simultaneously. Prioritisation among the schemes is required. So, different goals will be achieved over different time frames. But neither of these two are spelt out. 

Specific Promises

The manifesto opens with Modi’s ‘Letter to the Nation’ in which he spells out the key promises. He starts with “Viksit Bharat by 2047 and self-reliant (Aatmanirbhar) India.”  Towards this end, “In the next five years, we will take our nation into the top three economies of the world.. ‘by setting’… new benchmarks in growth of both ecology and economy.” And will be “fueled by the achievements of our youth,” a direct appeal to aspirational young Indians.

He repeats the exhortation from the Red Fort, “Yahi Samay Hai, Sahi Samay Hai  (This is the right time).” National pride is invoked, “Let us create a nation that future generations will be proud of!”

Modi not only appeals to the youth but subtly addresses the insecurities and inferiorities of the middle classes when he repeatedly asserts that India is a vishwaguru, respected across the world. This also addresses the Indian diaspora abroad that has come to accept Modi’s leadership. The manifesto sees to magnify this cult status. Modi himself projects it when he repeatedly says, ‘Modi ki Guarantee’. 

Promises and Past Performance 

Since BJP has been in power for the last 10 years, by assessing past performance, one can gauge the credibility of the current guarantees. The manifesto lists the achievements selectively but ignores the slippages. 

Major policy failures have occurred due to inadequacy in understanding, formulation and implementation – resulting in policy induced crisis. Demonetisation and faulty GST were hailed as turning points, new freedom, etc., but have turned out to be disastrous. Demonetisation was carried out in secrecy on the incorrect premise resulting in long term damage to the economy. GST continues to damage the unorganised sector. COVID mismanagement led to a huge number of unrecorded death and illness. Dependence on one person’s guarantee has been disastrous.

If the past decade had been one of achievements and poverty (defined in terms of food consumption) is less than 5%, why is free foodgrains being offered to 80 crore people or Rs 6,000 per year given to 11 crore farmers, etc. Why does the ASER report show that 40% children in the age group of 14 to 18 cannot read, write or do mathematics of second standard? Better health parameters are an important aspect of poverty elimination. But this was put to doubt during the COVID Delta wave. Why does NHFS show massive malnourishment among women and children?

Such adversities are sought to be hidden from the public gaze by data manipulation. Even adverse official data has been rejected and supplanted with incorrect data.

Consider the much touted claim that India is the fifth largest economy and will become the third largest by 2027. These claims depend on correctness of GDP data. Controversy has dogged GDP data since it was manipulated to show faster growth during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) years as compared to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) period. The official data given by the CSO under MOSPI was rejected and NITI Ayog was asked to provide it. Adverse official data on employment and consumption was initially rejected. Creative manipulation of budget data is routine. The biggest recent data issue is the absence of the 2021 census. Its absence is resulting in errors in the official surveys.

GDP data does not incorporate the declining unorganised sector data independently, leading to huge errors. Alternative data suggests that GDP has grown at between -2% and +2% since demonetisation. Thus, the economy, rather than being the fastest growing has hardly grown and India is still the ninth largest economy and not the fifth largest as claimed officially. So, it will also not become the third largest economy by 2027.

While growth is little, rich are becoming richer through cornering the gains at the expense of the unorganised sector which employs 94% of the workers. So, inequalities have risen, poverty is persisting, unemployment is high and consumption as a share of GDP has fallen. If growth was as good as officially claimed, why are these problems persisting.

The policy induced challenges have come in the way of the guarantees given earlier. Like, ending black economy, doubling farmers’ incomes and becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2024. So, are `Modi’s guarantee’ credible? 

Personalised Decisions, no Way to Frame Policies

The last decade points to the individualisation of decision making in India leading to huge problems. As can be expected, these go unmentioned in the manifesto – after all the manifesto is supposed to create a feel good factor in the nation.

But the lesson for the nation is that policies cannot be at the whims of a leader who has a tinted vision that seeks to promote the dominant community’s narrow interests. Homogenisation has become the underlying theme that is impacting the cultural, social, political and economic aspects of the nation. For example, one nation one election, language, food, uniform civil code, education system, digitisation, fiscal policies, etc. 

Can this be good for a complex society with huge diversity? It can only add to society’s challenges by fuelling resistance, deepening divides and aggravating instability in society. These can only come in the way of achieving goals by diverting nation’s energies from essential development to firefighting. While some micro goals could still be achieved the wider picture can only get clouded. So, in spite of the good intentions expressed in the manifesto, the end result of `Modi’s guarantee’ could be contrary to the promises.

Arun Kumar is a retired professor of Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University and author of Indian Economy’s Greatest Crisis: Impact of the Coronavirus and the Road Ahead (2020).

The article was first published in The Wire as An Individual’s Guarantee As Party Manifesto Weakens Democracy, Feeds Instability, Uncertainty on April 19, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Aasthaba Jadeja, a visiting researcher at IMPRI.