ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Manifestos and Messiahs

Elections are increasingly becoming contests over personalities and not of policies.

The promise of representative democracy has been that general elections would see a political battle based on a contest of ideas, programmes and policies. Indian elections have mostly fallen well short of this ideal, as a combination of patronage politics, identity-based alliances, anti-incumbency and the presence of “strongman” politicians have trumped programmatic competition in guiding electoral choice. In such a context, manifestos have often not been taken seriously, both by the parties releasing them, as well as by voters to whom they are addressed.

Elections to the 16th Lok Sabha do not seem to promise any better. The cavalier manner in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), apparently the leading party in the hustings, released its manifesto after polling had started on 7 April, amply illustrates this point. The BJP could afford to do so. Having reduced the elections to a referendum on Narendra Modi’s leadership, it is understandable as to why the BJP regards the release of its manifesto as unimportant. It must be said that the media has generally played along; the discourse around the elections has kept to whether Modi is the right choice for the prime ministership. There has been little critical focus on policies and programmes.

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