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

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Politics of Election Manifestos

Not only the actionable promises, but also the ideological content of the manifestos deserve scrutiny.


For the ongoing general elections, most of the national and other parties that are significant at the regional level, have released their respective manifestos. Arguably, repetitiveness in the content of the manifestos leads people to perceive such manifesos as a ritualised exercise. However, such documents continue to retain relevance in terms of assessing political priorities and ideological preferences of the contending political forces. Such documents also help detect discrepancies between the promises that were made in the run-up to previous elections and their fulfilment in the year of the elections under consideration. Undoubtedly, failure or achievement in delivering on the commitments is an important yardstick with which to assess the manifestos and the parties. (It is a different matter that mainstream media is showing greater enthusiasm in scrutinising the promises made by the opposition parties rather than subjecting the ruling party manifesto to a test of its actual performance in the last five years.) However, it would be too managerial an approach to reduce the manifestos to just that as it would yield a depoliticised conception of political parties as mere service-delivery apparatuses. Politics of the manifestos goes beyond the actionable promises (or their actionability) for they also contain the elements of propaganda and ideology. A political party must be assessed not only on the basis of its actionable slogans, but also on its propaganda and ideological slogans. What do the manifestos of major parties in the fray tell us in this regard?

It is evident that the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) does not take manifestos seriously as it had released its manifesto for 2014 after the first phase of voting. Even this time around, theBJP manifesto appears as an afterthought, perhaps a hasty reaction to the Congress manifesto, which is getting traction in the electoral mobilisation. Nevertheless, it once again reveals the core Sangh Parivar agenda of the party and, the rhetoric of development notwithstanding, sits well with the overall polarising and divisive line of its election campaign. It is telling that the BJP manifesto begins with the question of national security, ahead of its so-called development agenda. Nationwide implementation of the National Register of Citizens, Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, and abrogation of Article 370 form part of this section which shows the inherently exclusionary/discriminatory character of the BJP’s vision of the nation and nationalism. Even on the development agenda, the manifesto bypasses the question of employment generation and seeks refuge in the rhetoric of the entrepreneurial approach, which is a brazen refusal to address the most urgent task of the day. For all the platitudes about women’s empowerment, there is no mention of equal pay for equal work, and the promise of gender equality remains confined to the practices affecting Muslim women. But, for all these “crocodile tears,” a mere one-line reference to “development with dignity’’ for minorities underlines how marginal or secondary is the existence of these communities for the BJP’s idea of the nation. The focus on Ram Mandir and Sabarimala is par for the course, but therein lurks a grievous danger that the BJP rule poses to constitutional democracy. The manifesto states that the party would “endeavour to secure constitutional protection on issues related to faith and belief,” which is effectively a call for the subversion of constitutional values.

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Updated On : 30th Apr, 2019


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