India’s ruling Congress party on Tuesday rolled out its ambitious election manifesto promising populist steps like affirmative action in the private sector, a right to food act and an expansion of schemes to improve the well being of farmers and their families. Congress president Sonia Gandhi also said her party would maintain government control over state-run firms in the manufacturing and finance sectors if it was voted back in power. However, opposition parties belittled the claims.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, left, and Congress party President Sonia Gandhi release the party manifesto in New Delhi, Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The 33-page document released by the ruling Congress at an impressive function and attended by union ministers pledged a slew of measures. It sought a renewed mandate from the people and promised to continue work to ensure a life of security and prosperity for every citizen.
However the party’s most important announcement was that it would extend interest relief to farmers and build on the national job guarantee scheme, both which are seen as potential vote winners in the general election that will be held in April and May.
While releasing the manifesto Prime Minister Manmohan Singh guaranteed that every family living below the poverty line either in rural or urban areas would be entitled, by law, to 25 kg of rice or wheat every month at rock bottom prices.
Over 70 per cent of India’s billion plus population still lives in the rural hinterland.
The manifesto also said that subsidised community kitchens would be set up in all cities for homeless people and migrants with the support of the central government.
Prime Minister Singh, who has just recovered from a heart surgery maintained that only his party could deliver.
“I sincerely say whether it is the BJP or the CPI(M) or the Third Front, they do not have a viable alternative and cohesive framework.”
Opposition parties were quick to pounce on the manifesto dubbing it as a populist measure to win votes.
D. Raja of the Communist Party of India that had supported the ruling alliance till July last year and snapped ties on the civilian nuclear deal with the US said Congress was on shaky ground.
“The Congress party is not confident to win in this election that shows their weakness also. In fact we have been asking the government to strengthen the public distribution system and to ban forward trading particularly in food grains. The Congress party never agreed with us in parliament or outside parliament when we were supporting the government.”
The party said it will also follow the middle path while developing, striking a balance between globalisation and indigenous development, the needs of urban and rural India, regulation and entrepreneurship, organised and unorganised sector, and new and traditional industries.
Even the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is also in election mode projecting its leader, L K. Advani, as the next prime minister criticised the Congress Party sharply.
Venkiah Naidu a senior BJP leader says, "Let us see what is the commitment they have given to the people earlier. They have not been able to implement it. Then who is going to believe their commitment?"
The Congress made it a point to mention that the Indian economy had shown considerable resilience under the most adverse international circumstances as an outcome of its policies.
Though some opinion polls have shown that the Congress-led alliance had a clear edge over other political parties at this point, it is an election that is still tough to call especially when the election campaign is yet to gain momentum.