The Arrogance of a Nothing Manifesto
In times of distress, the RSS-BJP blithely draws a blank
NEW DELHI: Upon a time it was thought that groups of people with a similar point of view, or associated in some other way, come together to form a party, and build an organisation to compete in elections for a share in state power.
The winning parties would use this trust to realise or make real the commitments they made in trying to persuade people to vote for them.
Their willingness and ability to do so would be affected by the social groups they came from. By the people and communities they were bound to represent. By a watchful framework of opposition parties, the judiciary, a free press, and other powerful institutions. This was the design of our Constitution.
That during elections or a prelude to the redistribution of state power, each party or alliance would publicise a manifesto, containing an assessment of circumstance, a political vision, and a raft of commitments drawn from its constitutents. With the understanding that, if in government its responsibility extends to the whole republic.
This fable in mind – and with the prevailing income-generation crisis of historic proportions, from bottom to almost top, well documented and deeply felt despite the government’s best efforts – The Citizen searched through the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto, looking for any significant, specific proposals that would address the alarming state of the political economy.
We found nothing. But there is a pattern to the few tangible commitments on offer.
The BJP’s sloppy Sankalp Patra or Statement of Intent is addressed exclusively to its donors, to the managers and publicity firms and wheeler-dealers, to US-led financiers, so essential now to the practice of democracy under capitalism.
In its cultivated deafness and its hands off the rich, crumbs for the poor approach, this general election the BJP stands half alone.
“In order to ensure self-reliance in the procurement of defence equipment, we have taken several effective steps in the last five years. For instance, the most modern AK-203 automatic rifles are being manufactured at Amethi under our ‘Make in India in Defence’ initiative. We are committed to focusing on ‘Make in India in Defence’ to enable the indigenous production of defence equipment. This will also generate employment and encourage investment in the defence sector.”
Mysteriously, the manifesto doesn’t mention the government’s most significant achievement in this direction: How, overriding objections from Defence Ministry officials, Prime Minister Modi announced in Paris without having consulted the Cabinet Committee on Security that Reliance Defence Limited, a ten-day-old military startup owned by Anil Ambani, would manufacture some parts of Rafale warplanes in India together with Dassault Aviation, for four times the previously agreed cost per plane, and without a transfer of technological know-how.
. Fixed income support of ₹6,000 per year, launched by PM Modi six weeks ago for farmers who own up to 2 hectares of land, will be extended to the richest remaining 14% of farmers who own more than 2 hectares of land.
. A pension scheme for all small and marginal landowning farmers – no further details.
. ₹25 lakh crore investment in the “agri-rural sector” to improve farm sector productivity. No specifics, no timeframe. Last year the Union government’s total expenditure was ₹21 lakh crore.
. “Short-term new agriculture loans up to ₹1 lakh at zero interest rate for up to 5 years, on condition of prompt repayment of the principal amount.” The word new seems to mean that farmers already indebted to banks won’t be eligible.
. Enrolment under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima crop insurance scheme will now be made voluntary. Under the PMFB, which replaced all earlier crop insurance schemes in 2016, the government uses public money to subsidise the following corporations so they may provide eligible farmers with crop insurance:
Reliance General Insurance Co Ltd, ICICI-Lombard General Insurance Company Ltd, Tata AIG General Insurance Co Ltd, Cholamandalam MS General Insurance Co Ltd, HDFC ERGO General Insurance Co Ltd, Future Generali India Insurance Co Ltd, Agriculture Insurance Company of India Ltd, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co Ltd, IFFCO-Tokio General Insurance Co Ltd, SBI General Insurance Co Ltd, and Universal Sompo General Insurance Co Ltd.
“Ltd” or limited liability means that “the loss an owner (shareholder) of a business firm may incur is limited to the amount of capital invested by him in the business, and does not extend to his personal assets.”
. “Timely availability of improved seeds of promising varieties at affordable rates with doorstep testing facilities.” This may mean that untested or failed varieties of GMO seeds will be purchased from multinational corporations, and subsidised by public money to be tried out on Third World farmers.
. A National Warehousing Grid along national highways, and a Village Storage Scheme for “agri-produce”. Farmers who store their produce in these will get bank loans at lower interest rates.
. Chemical-free farming across 20 lakh hectares of hilly, rainfed and tribal areas over a five-year period. This amounts to 1.25% of the land under cultivation. An e-commerce portal will be set up to sell the produce. Goshalas or cow shelters across the country will be linked to its promotion. Organic eco-tourism will be promoted in the vicinity to supplement farmers’ income.
. Through infrastructure and marketing support, honey production will be doubled “from the existing 11,500 MT”. No timeframe is given, but according to the 2018 Horticulture Statistical Yearbook honey production was 76,200 metric tonnes in 2014-15, the latest official figures available.
. Irrigation will be expanded to 100% of the country’s “irrigation potential” – not defined – “within a defined time-frame” – not defined.
. One crore hectares of farmland will be brought under micro-irrigation, and the “judicious use of fertilisers” will be promoted.
. For better access to markets and “inputs”, the creation of 10,000 new Farmer Producer Organisations will be enabled. In the big cities “a mechanism of direct marketing of vegetables, fruits, dairy and fishery products through farmers’ cooperative organizations” will be set up.
. The “development of young agri-scientists to take advantage of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Blockchain technology, Big Data analytics etc. for more predictive and profitable precision agriculture” will be enabled. How?
. “On the lines of the Aadhar project,” the digitisation of land records will be completed in mission mode. Second-generation land reforms will be implemented “to ensure title guarantees for the landholder and reduce land-related litigation.” A model law on land titles will be created and the system will be implemented by working with states.
. In the fisheries sector for a Blue Revolution, a Matsya Sampada Yojana will be launched with an allocation of ₹10,000 crore, for storage and marketing tools and infrastructure. Accident insurance will be expanded among fishermen.
. To ensure Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of Gram Swaraj or Village Autonomy, the following will be ensured:
- A pucca house to every family that doesn’t have one by 2022
- A piped water connection to every household by 2024
- A high-speed optical fibre internet connection to every gram panchayat by 2022
- 100% disposal or reuse of “liquid waste water” by no deadline
- A “massive Rural Road Upgradation Programme” to connect centres of education, healthcare centres, and markets with hinterlands to promote rural growth” – no allocation, no timeframe.
. “While the social security net for the poor and farmers will be expanded” – no specifics, passive voice – “we will make capital investments of ₹100 lakh crore in the infrastructure sector by 2024. We recognize that investment driven growth requires cheaper capital. By anchoring inflation at 4% and cleaning up our banking system we have created the space for a structural reduction in the cost of capital.”
. India will be made a global manufacturing hub, by:
- Working to move its ranking into the top 50 in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index
- Amending the Companies Act to impose civil liability for technical and procedural defaults of a minor nature – unspecified – so such defaults don’t clog up the courts
- Announcing a New Industrial Policy (though not just yet) “with an eye on Industry 4.0 in order to gear up for technologies like artificial intelligence and electric mobility.” Oh and “Special effort will be made for MSMEs.”
- Actively using public procurement and government incentives to “create clusters/networks that can take on the world’s best”.
. It will be the aim to take government credit guarantees to MSMEs from ₹19,000 crore to ₹1 lakh crore by 2024. Technology Centres will “expose MSMEs to Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Internet of Things,Virtual Reality, Blockchain technology and Zero Detect Zero Effect.”
These together with existing skilling and incubation centres will provide “focused and high level skilling” to more than 6 lakh people per year. No allocation, no timeframe. About 50 lakh people are thought to join India’s working-age population every year.
What is the difference between skilling and education?
. Small traders registered under GST will be given accident insurance cover of ₹10 lakh, and a merchant credit card.
. Entrepreneurs will be given collateral-free credit up to ₹50 lakh, with half the loan amount guaranteed for women and a quarter for men. Regulatory requirements will be eased, a tax compliance time burden limit of 1 hour per month will be targeted, the establishment of 50,000 startups by 2024 will be facilitated, 100 Innovation Zones will be created in urban local bodies, and 500 new incubators and accelerators will be set up by 2024.
Central ministries, departments, state governments and central PSUs will be ranked for their engagement with startups, for bringing in innovation and newer technologies, and “global” practices and skills.
. A seed startup fund of ₹20,000 crore of public money will be established.
. The total length of national highways will be doubled by 2022. All viable rail tracks will be converted to broad gauge by 2022. The electrification of all railway tracks will be ensured by 2022. The dedicated freight corridor project will be completed by 2022. A massive programme will be launched for the modernisation of railway stations. All main railway stations will have wifi by 2022. The number of functional airports will be doubled in the next five years. Port capacity will be doubled in five years.
. “All remaining villages have been electrified. Similarly, almost all remaining households have been provided with an electricity connection.”
. The number of Mudra loan beneficiaries will be taken from 17 crore in the last five years, to 30 crore in no timeframe.
. The number of seats in central law, engineering, science and management institutions will be increased by at least 50% in the next five years.
This signals a priority, given the huge number of MPhil and PhD seat cuts in research institutions, or the near 90% slash in funds for school teacher training over this government’s term.
The manifesto also promises one Arts, Culture and Music University, one Hospitality and Tourism University, and one Police University.
. Using anganwadis, civil society and the private sector, the number of workplace childcare facilities will be increased threefold by 2022.
. By creating a new data-sharing framework that “builds on the success of Jan Dhan and Aadhaar” it will be ensured that every Indian can access formal credit facilities (a bank branch, payment bank or banking correspondent) within 5 km of their home.
. Income tax slabs will be further revised – unspecified – and unspecified tax benefits provided, to increase the purchasing power of “our middle-income families”.
. “We are committed to the empowerment and ‘development with dignity’ of all minorities (Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis etc ).”
. “Under our government, there has been a 42% growth in the National Minimum Wage. We will maintain the same direction over the next five years to ensure a respectable living for the workers.”
So the minimum wage will keep going up not down. The increase cited means an average growth of 7.3% per year in the prescribed minimum wage in their government’s term. Consumer price inflation averaged about 4% in the same period.
. A Pradhan Mantri Kalanidhi Yojana will allow flexible and customised packages of credit, working capital and social security “options” to artisans of “the traditional arts”. No amounts or options specified.
. A National Policy for Reskilling and Upskilling will be formulated to evolve a flexible and industry-responsive workforce, capable of accessing new opportunities and insulated from technological shocks.
But what industry? What opportunities? And just what technological shocks are being plotted, by those who conduct research and own - these machines?