How much the manifestos influence voters’ behaviour can be a matter of debate, but what can be surely analysed is the performance of the political parties in actualising their poll promises when they are in power
As electioneering gets momentum, political parties release their manifestos presenting their agenda for the next five years. The Congress manifesto is out and so is the BJP manifesto, but voters need not vote on the basis of who promises what—the voting preferences have definitely evolved over the last couple of decades.
PM Narendra Modi, BJP National President Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh releasing BJP Manifesto in New Delhi
In my view, voters do not necessarily reward populist promises, and they also look at the credibility of the party (or the leader) who is making the promise as they simultaneously evaluate the viability of the promise itself. herefore, it is important that we take a view of the promises that political parties have made in their manifesto and evaluate whether the respective parties delivered on them or not. This would help us in understand the credibility of the parties with respect to the implementation of these promises. We review the Congress manifesto for 2009 elections and the BJP’s manifesto for 2014 to draw such a comparison.
Congress Manifesto and Experience of 2009-14
One of the starting points of our analysis of the Congress manifesto must be their commitment towards the introduction of the goods and service tax from April 1, 2010. We are well aware that the Goods and Service Tax (GST) came into force in 2017 under the NDA Government. Similarly, in its 2009 manifesto, the Congress committed itself towards ensuring energy security for the country, but the LPG coverage was a meagre 55% in 2014, and around 2.55 crore households remained without electricity.
Congress leaders releasing the manifesto for 2019 Lok Sabha Polls in New Delhi
Under the NDA, 100% village electrification has been achieved, and less than 20,000 households are yet to be electrified. The Congress even promised a programme of low-cost social housing and sanitation in Urban areas, but we all are aware of the dire need for PM Awas Yojana and the Swachh Bharat Mission both of which have been a major success stories of the NDA Government. It is also worth mentioning that the Congress promised One Rank One Pension (OROP) in successive manifestos, but it failed to deliver the same.
On the economic indicators, it is well known that the economy was in a terrible shape between 2009-2014. A major reason behind this decline was the wonky economic and social policies that were undertaken as advised by the National Advisory Council (NAC). Several economists who had cautioned against these policies were disregarded by the then Government. A bulk of these policies involved setting up rights for everything, be it food security or education. However, setting up mere rights wasn’t enough but creating an effective mechanism to ensure delivery was the key. This is perhaps why most of those programs witnessed only limited success that came at great economic costs.
People, in general, believe that the fiscal slippage under the UPA happened due to the 2008 financial crisis. However, the slippage started from February 2008 (months before the financial crisis happened) as the then Finance Minister announced a farm loan waiver in his budget speech. Since 2008 onwards, the fiscal deficit only widened to fund for the extensive social sector schemes that were known to be corrupt and leaky. This coincided with the slowdown in the economy. The problem got amplified when several corruption scandals came to the surface, and the government decided to stop taking any decisions. Thus, Congress got an opportunity to further initiate reforms and build upon the strong foundation that NDA-I provided, and it was benefitted to some extent during the UPA-I, but during the UPA-II it decided to do the exact opposite of reforms and lost the golden chance.
It is worth mentioning that NDA-II has yet again rebuilt a similar foundation for the future take-off of the Indian economy, while Congress 2019 manifesto yet again reaffirms the fact that it hasn’t learnt from its past mistakes. Having failed to deliver on their 2009 manifesto, their new manifesto aims at expansion of spending in the hope of greater revenue mobilisation through taxes and non-tax revenue as the economy expands. The problem with their assessment is that they assume that the growth rate of the economy will stay as it is—a mistake they made from 2008 onwards.
Credibility with respect to manifesto will be an important issue in the current election cycle, and unfortunately, the Opposition can not do much here as the BJP has got a clear and impressive edge when it comes to the comparison of track records in implementing manifestosAn expansion in fiscal deficit is known to impose inflationary pressure on the Indian economy, and this tends to erode the purchasing power of the poor and low middle-income groups. Higher inflation will also simultaneously increase interest rates which will make investments costly. On the one hand, we witness muted consumption, we will also witness a slowdown in investments, and both will result in a slowdown in the economy.
BJP Manifesto and performance between 2014-19
Fundamentally, the manifesto presented by the BJP in 2014 (and in 2019) was different from the Congress’ manifesto in many ways. The manifesto was a pragmatic document that aimed at resolving some of the critical challenges that India faced. With slowing growth, double-digit inflation, a high fiscal deficit, widening current account deficit, broken banking system due to NPAs and a falling rupee, the challenge in front of the government was monumental.
The vision document, as the party prefers to call, talked about initiation of reforms such as Goods and Service Taxes, improving India’s ease of doing business, resolving the non-performance crisis, reviving growth and curbing inflation. Across all these areas, the NDA Government has performed exceedingly well as India attained the highest ever real growth rate post-independence between 2014-18. All of this happened despite two successive droughts and an unfavourable global geopolitical situation. The growth experienced by India was driven largely by the strong macroeconomic fundamentals combined by the robust agenda of reforms of the NDA Government.
Even in the social sector, the NDA Government outperformed its predecessor by a significant magnitude. India today has universal access to bank accounts at the household level, it has achieved 100 per cent rural electrification at the village level, over 9 crore toilets have been constructed and over 6 crore LPG connections have been given, and 90% of Indian villages are now connected with an all-weather road. These facts show the tremendous progress that India has made over the last five years under the NDA Government. This progress is not just limited to development of physical infrastructure as the government unveiled the world’s most ambitious and largest health security scheme—the Ayushman Bharat—which will ensure that quality healthcare is no longer a luxury.
It is worth mentioning that BJP made 549 promises in the run-up to 2014 elections and it has delivered on 520 of them. That means that the BJP delivered on 94.7 per cent of their promises in its 2014 manifesto. Unfortunately, the Congress will not undertake such an exercise as it has a very bad track record in terms of fulfilling its promises and this can be best seen from the fact that several of its programs or slogans have consistently been a part of their manifestos since decades—the eradication of poverty being the prime example of this.
Track Record Matters
From the aforementioned analysis, it becomes clear that the Congress has not delivered on its 2009 manifesto; in fact, its track record of delivery of promises has been historically poor. Be it the 1971 slogan of Garibi Hatao or providing bank accounts to every poor post-nationalisation—the Congress gave empty slogans while delivery of these promises didn’t happen. In contrast, the BJP not just delivered on 94 per cent of its promises but it also ensured that India achieved universal financial inclusion at the household level under the Jan Dhan Yojana. In fact, the BJP went beyond its manifesto and delivered in critical areas such as healthcare, environment and poverty alleviation.
If voters go by their past experience, it is evident that they will end up rewarding the current administration for delivery of governance and it may even penalise the opposition for their failure to deliver for decades. Credibility with respect to manifesto will be an important issue in the current election cycle, and unfortunately, the Opposition can not do much here as the BJP has got a clear and impressive edge when it comes to the comparison of track records in implementing manifestos.
(The writer is an Economist with the Gyan Foundation in New Delhi. He holds a Masters in Economics from TERI School of Advanced Studies and a Bachelors in Economics from the University of London)