'Congress Wants to Remove Impunity for Enforced Disappearance, Sexual Violence and Torture'
An interview with the AICC Manifesto Committee's head
The Congress released its general election manifesto on April 2. Manisha Shastri, who worked in the party’s research wing, interviews Professor M.V.Rajeev Gowda, Rajya Sabha MP, Chairperson of the AICC Research Department and Convener of the AICC Manifesto Committee, to find out more about the process of making the manifesto.
What was the party’s approach to constructing its manifesto for this election?
The mandate given to the Manifesto Committee by Congress President Rahul Gandhi was very clear: he wanted us to go out and come up with a people’s manifesto, instead of having one put together by a few of us sitting here in Delhi.
So our team went across the length and breadth of the country to gather inputs from various stakeholders. It is due to the nature and the extent of the exercise undertaken that we were able to put together a document that reflects and addresses the issues, needs and aspirations of the citizens of this country.
Could you elaborate on the consultation process?
The Manifesto Committee was divided into 20 different working groups, each focusing on a particular sector or group of stakeholders. We held 174 consultations: 121 with the public and 53 with experts. One consultation was held in Dubai with representatives from 12 countries.
In addition to the inputs received at the consultations, we received over 2.2 lakh inputs online: via email, the manifesto website, Change.org and a dedicated WhatsApp number.
The inputs were supplemented with primary and secondary research to arrived at the manifesto promises. By delved deep into the various aspects of important issues, we believe we succeeded in understanding the problems well, and that the solutions we are offering have resonated with the people.
Did any other groundwork go into preparing the manifesto?
Before the consultations were held, our teams did some primary research which involved looking at the status of the promises made by the BJP in 2014, its policy interventions since, budgetary allocations, the pictures thrown up by different data, and what has gone wrong.
This gave us a sense of what kind of issues to expect when going out to consult people, and it enabled us to brainstorm with them over potential solutions.
The primary and secondary research took the team about a month, and the consultations spanned five months, after which we started processing the inputs received.
Take the example of NYAY. There was a lot of research that was done internally, after which several experts and renowned economists like Raghuram Rajan and Thomas Piketty were consulted for over a period of six months.
And it was only after Rahul Gandhi was completely convinced that the promise could be implemented, that he announced it.
What is the primary focus of the manifesto?
We are focused on wealth creation and welfare. We want to unleash the powers of the market, alongside providing a social security net for every Indian citizen. We want citizens to have access to the best quality of services. Programmes like NYAY are aimed at providing those who have fallen behind, a helping hand. We want to create a level playing field and ensure opportunities for everyone.
The manifesto suggests a major rethinking on from the UPA’s two terms on AFSPA and the sedition law. What has caused this shift?
Laws and regulations are dependent on how they are used and by whom. In the last five years we are seeing how laws and regulations have been abused. During UPA, we exercised caution. But this government has been vindictive and has victimised people every chance they got.
We have seen how sedition laws are being misused against journalists and the families of victims of lynching. We have seen it being misused through doctored videos to target individuals. In such a situation, things need to be changed.
Our promises are in line with the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. We are proposing amendments which will strike a balance between the powers of security forces and the human rights of citizens.
We want to remove impunity for enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture. Such things have no place in a civilised society.
The offences that the sedition law is used for can be tackled with other laws, such as the Defence of India Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which have the required safeguards.
If we can accomplish the same goals with these laws, what is the need for us to retain colonial laws like sedition?
How much impact do you think manifestos have on the electoral outcome?
The central feature of the Congress manifesto is the NYAY programme, and citizens everywhere in India are already talking about it. This is because it comes from a manifesto which is credible, based on facts and data.
Electoral outcomes depend on how credible the manifesto is. In the BJP manifesto the numbers simply don’t add up. They made promises that they have no ability to fulfil, like doubling farmers’ income by 2022.
We on the other hand have a track record on delivering, examples of which are many like the MNREGA, the Food Security Act, RTE, RTI, etc.
Parties forget manifestos once they come to power. Why should people expect things to be different this time?
In Karnataka during last year’s state elections, the Congress Siddaramaiah government went into elections demonstrating to citizens that 95 percent of the promises made in the previous election manifesto had been delivered.
In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, we waived farm loan within days of assuming power. In less than 100 days of government in those states we have delivered on a number of promises we made during the campaign.
Unlike the BJP’s jumlas that they constantly keep offering, we have promised and delivered in the past and we will do it again.
Our manifesto itself promises that every year an annual statement will be presented, tracking the progress achieved on each promise in the spirit of accountability and transparency.
In Rajasthan, you can already see this shaping up: the manifesto for the state elections has been turned into a policy document for the Cabinet.
Manisha Shastri is a social activist and a freelance researcher and writer.