The Indian General Election season is here!

Will it be ‘Abki baar (phir) Modi sarkaar’ (‘this time (again) it is time for a Modi government’) or ‘Jaat par na pat par, mohar lagega haath par’ (‘neither based on caste nor on creed, my vote will be on the hand’; the hand is the symbol of the Indian National Congress)? Will India finally vote for a regime mainly on development issues or are we still some way off from such a scenario? How important will caste dynamics be? Will communal and sectarian politics play a role?

These are all questions that shall matter immensely as the country gears up for the General Elections 2019, beginning from 11 April 2019.

The manifestos for Indian General Elections 2019 of the major Indian national parties: Bharatiya Janata Party (https://www.bjp.org/manifestoPDF/BJP-Election-2019-english.pdf) and the Indian National Congress (https://manifesto.inc.in/pdf/english.pdf), have now been released. Both parties have looked into various aspects of life and society in their respective manifestos, right from the economy and jobs to foreign affairs and defense.  While one focuses on its leader (the BJP’s with the focus being on Narendra Modi), the other seems to focus on people, in general. One talks of resolutions (‘Sankalp’) while the other talks of its ability to deliver (the Indian National Congress).

As the country gears up to vote, I would like to look at the key points that are covered (or not covered) in the manifestos.

Employment

The world’s largest democracy India is holding its general election in seven phases from April 11 onwards. It promises to be a mix of people, communities, ideologies, parties, concerns, interests and life, across the country, which shall come alive as the country chooses who it wants as its leader for the next five years. India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. As a result, appealing to the youth of the country is of utmost importance. Having them turn out and vote is vital for the sustenance of a healthy democratic culture and environment in the country. One of the most crucial aspects of the manifestos that matter to them would be jobs and employment prospects. Let us see how both parties fare on that front.

Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP starts this section with the promise of

We will create new opportunities of employment by providing more support to the 22 major ‘Champion Sectors’ identified as the main drivers of Indian economy. We will optimally leverage the untapped employment-generation of potential of sectors such as defence and pharmaceuticals to take advantage of the opportunities available in domestic and foreign markets.

For starters, a natural question would be: what are these champion sectors? After some research and fact-finding, I came across a Press Information Bureau (PIB) press release that highlighted what champion sectors meant:

These include Information Technology & Information Technology enabled Services (IT & ITeS), Tourism and Hospitality Services, Medical Value Travel, Transport and Logistics Services, Accounting and Finance Services, Audio Visual Services, Legal Services, Communication Services, Construction and Related Engineering Services, Environmental Services, Financial Services and Education Services.

The BJP promises to take forward its aim of developing India into a ‘knowledge-based, skill-supported and technology-driven society’. It looks at how networks and clustering within the economy could help create jobs:

We understand that clustering and network effects are important in order to build competitiveness in cutting edge industries. Therefore, we will invest in creating clusters/networks that can take on the world’s best. Public procurement and government incentives will be used actively to build up these clusters and encourage job creation.

The BJP seeks to push for increased public and private investment to increase job creation and employment prospects

We will continue the fast pace with more and more public and private investment and efficient ground level management on the building of infrastructure further and to improve the quality of life and enhance the ease of living. In addition to ensuring efficiency in the economy, this will also lead to the creation of a large number of jobs and livelihood opportunities.

One of the greatest moves in a country that has been beset with poverty and lack of development coupled with reservation based only on social identities and not for economically weaker sections belonging to the general category was the creation of a 10% quota for economically weaker sections of society. BJP in its manifesto has ensured that economically weaker sections of the society who belong to the non-reserved category are represented and have access to government jobs and higher education through the 10% reservation. In all fairness and the same spirit, the BJP seeks to continue implementing the law ensuring that the reservation and representation of SCs, STs, and OBCs in the job market.

The BJP has a section on employment opportunities for tribal communities, while highlighting that the BJP has continuously protected and promoted the interest of forest dwellers paicularly the tribal communities, by endeavouring to provide basic amenities, such as roadways, communication-channels and housing, to people living in remote corners of the country, and the party shall continue to do so. In addition, the BJP says

We will establish 50,000 ‘Van Dhan Vikas Kendras’ in the tribal areas of the country to ensure the availability of primary processing and value addition for forest produce and to provide employment for tribals and increase tribal income.

A major section of BJP’s Sankalp Patra promises on job creation relates to entrepreneurship and startups, and the whole idea of transforming ‘job-seekers’ to ‘job-givers’. The BJP seeks to launch a new scheme to provide collateral-free credit up to ₹50 lakh for entrepreneurs, and promises to guarantee 50% of the loan amount for female entrepreneurs and 25% of the loan amount for
male entrepreneurs. It is heartening to see that Modi wishes to set-up a new ‘Entrepreneurial Northeast’ scheme to provide financial support to micro, small and medium industries and for employment generation in the Northeastern state. This definitely is long-needed but obviously also plays to the gallery, considering the number of seats the North-east can get the BJP in this election (courtesy: Hemanta Biswa Sarma and Co.).

The BJP also promises to expand the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana for budding entrepreneurs to take the number of beneciaries of Mudra loans up to 30 crore, and to also promote and encourage Startups through creation of a ‘Seed Startup Fund’ of ₹20,000 crore.

Indian National Congress

The INC’s concerted push on the jobs front may have had an eerie deja-vu moment for Modi, had he not been on the other end of the deal this time. Modi came to power in 2014 on the promise of changing the realities when it came to employment. The INC begins its first major manifesto-section with a description of rising unemployment and the words

Today, unemployment is touching a 45-year high of 6.1 per cent according to the government’s own figures. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy puts the number at 7.2 per cent. At the end of this February, 3.1 crore people were actively looking for jobs. Data indicates that total employment has declined, the labour participation rate has declined.

Besides a general pledge to give the highest priority to protecting existing jobs and creating new jobs, the INC promises to create a new Ministry of Industry, Services and Employment. I was personally not sure how this would differ from the existing Ministry of Labour and Employment, and would therefore would love to have more information on this front.

The INC goes on to promise that it will fill all the 4 lakh vacancies as on 1 April 2019 in the Central Government, Central Public Sector Enterprises, Judiciary and Parliament before the end of March 2020. It mentions the possibility of a bit of subtle arm-twisting of the state governments by saying

As a condition for devolution of funds to the healthcare and education sectors and to Panchayats and Municipalities Congress will request State Governments to fill all vacancies, estimated at 20 lakh, in the 2 sectors and in local bodies.

So much for decentralization and federalism!

The Congress goes on to promise the abolition of application fees for government examinations and government posts, and to expand the health and education sectors significantly to create jobs associated with these sectors. They also seek to work with state governments to look into effective payment (including pending arrears) and support for para-state workers such as Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, rozgarsahayaks, preraks, and anudeshaks.

The INC goes on to highlight the importance of the manufacturing sector and the possibility of creating jobs in the same:

We will trigger rapid growth of the manufacturing sector, particularly of MSMEs, through the provision of world-class infrastructure in industrial hubs and cluster towns in order to aid the expansion of current units and the creation of new units.

MSMEs account for 90 per cent of all employment outside agriculture. The definition of MSMEs based on capital employed is biased against labour. Congress will link the definition of MSME to employment. A business employing 10 persons or less will be ‘micro;’ between 11 and 100 will be ‘small;’ and between 101 and 500 will be ‘medium.’

Not to be left behind on the entrepreneurship front, the INC says

We will create an Enterprise Support Agency to help entrepreneurs, including start-ups, with all-round business support including counselling, incubation, access to technology, funding, domestic and export markets, and the creation of new products, services and intellectual property.

We promise regulatory forbearance for Micro and Small Enterprises. They will be exempt from all applicable laws and regulations (except the Minimum Wages Act and tax laws) for a period of 3 years from 1 April 2019 or, in the case of new businesses, the date of commencement of business. This means freedom from ‘Inspector Raj’ until they stabilise.

Congress will promote ‘Mass Entrepreneurship’ and support entrepreneurs to replicate tried and tested models of businesses in order to meet the growing demand for such goods and services.

The main job-creating sectors are construction, textiles, leather, gems & jewellery, entertainment, tourism and retail businesses. We will reward businesses that create new jobs by lowering the effective direct tax rates and by lowering contributions to the CSR fund.

One interesting and nice area that the INC covers which the BJP does not explicity is that of incentivising employment of women. The Congress promises to give fiscal incentives to businesses that employ a certain percentage of women (strangely unspecified though). It also seeks to look at increasing exports and developing the tourism sector for job creation within the country, by promising `an adequately capitalised Tourism Development Bank to provide low-cost, long-term funds for investment in tourism-related businesses’.

The manifesto also looks at how the repair and restoration of water bodies (under the ‘Water Bodies Restoration Mission’) and the regeneration and afforestation of wasteland and degraded land (under the ‘Wasteland Regeneration Mission’) can create (a purported 1 crore) jobs for the youth. There is a push for fairness and support to apprentices within businesses and to equip youth to capitalize on opportunities relating to `jobs that will emerge with the advent of new technologies’.

Infrastructure Building

The importance of infrastructure building cannot be highlighted enough. Be it roadways, buildings, lines of communication, rail-lines or waterways, infrastructure is crucial for the smooth functioning of the nation. Let us see what the two parties have to say on this.

Indian National Congress

The INC begins by highlighting that `flawed design, inefficient execution, insufficient capacity and poor maintenance of infrastructure have dragged India’s growth rate down’. Not wanting to sound unfairly harsh but most of the years since India’s independence in 1947 has seen a Congress government in the centre, and so I wonder if that statement, in itself, is not a self-indictment. To counter this problem,

Congress promises to address these deficiencies with a combination of planning, technology, quality and accountability.

It begins with the arteries of the country, when it comes to trade and movement of individuals, in a manner of speaking: the roadways and railways. It looks at not only maintaining the existing infrastructure relating to these two areas but also building infrastructure wherever lacking or required.

Congress promises to augment the total length of national highways and increase the pace of construction. The focus will be on improved design and quality, maintenance and accountability.

Congress promises to massively modernise all outdated railway infrastructure. New projects will be implemented in accordance with the best international standards of design and quality.

Road construction and railways can be built using private capital and capacity. Congress will use sector-specific, tried and tested PPP models to increase the supply of these vital public goods.

The next section arguably tries to correct the one thing that cost the INC the elections last time: natural resources and spectrum allocation. A number of scams and scandals rocked the Congress’ boat to the extent of nearly sinking it in 2014. In 2019, the INC says

Congress promises to review, re-formulate and implement the policy on spectrum and on exploration and extraction of natural resources. The policy will address issues of allocation, capital investment, enhanced production, transparency, efficiency, risk-reward concerns, environmental sustainability, inter-generational equity, accountability, competition and appropriate sectoral regulation.

It also seeks to look into clean energy and promises to encourage the increased use of green energy over fossil fuels. This in itself is a commendable statement and promise to make, and ties into something I personally feel is very important: sustainable development and climate justice.

The INC ends this section by trying to dent the one area that the BJP has made a key issue: electrification of houses, particularly in rural India, by saying

Congress promises to enhance availability of, and access to, electricity in rural areas by encouraging investment in off-grid renewable power generation with ownership and revenues vesting in local bodies. Every village and every home will be electrified in the true sense. In the long term, we aim to substitute LPG used in homes by electricity and solar energy.

When it comes to infrastructure related to rural development, the Congress says

In order to fill the gaps in sector-specific schemes as well correct any unintended bias, we will empower Panchayats and Municipalities to design and execute infrastructure projects.
Congress promises to establish a non-lapsable Rural Infrastructure Fund that will provide loans and grants to specific infrastructure projects undertaken by Panchayats and Municipalities.

We will launch MGNREGA 3.0 to address issues of water security, soil quality and similar issues that aggravate farmers’ distress. To this end, we will:

  1. Increase the guaranteed days of employment up to 150 days in cases where 100 days have been achieved in a block/district;
  2. Use MGNREGA labour in the Waterbodies Restoration Mission and the Wasteland Regeneration Mission; and
  3. Use MGNREGA funds to build public assets such as primary health centres, classrooms, libraries etc.

Congress promises to connect all villages and habitations with a population of 250 with a road under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. Broadband connectivity will be provided to all
village Panchayats by the year 2021.

The allocation to the National Drinking Water Mission that has suffered neglect under the BJP government will be increased.

We will pass the Right to Homestead Act to provide a homestead for every household that does not own a home or own land on which a house may be built.

When it comes to urban development and urban policy, the Congress promises the following

Congress promises to formulate a comprehensive policy on Urbanisation after wide consultation. We will address the issues concerning towns and cities including city governance, livelihoods, housing, habitat, pollution, climate change, urban transport and disaster management.

Congress will support State Governments to build new towns and cities as well as satellite towns.

Congress will introduce a new model of governance for towns and cities through a directly elected mayor with a fixed term of 5 years, an elected Council and a separate administrative structure for each urban body. The administration will be accountable to the Mayor and the Council and there will be a provision to recruit technical experts and build capacity as well as multi-disciplinary teams to do urban planning and implement municipal works.

We will enforce the 74th Amendment to the Constitution and ensure the devolution of powers, functions and funds to the Municipalities and Corporations, making them financially independent

Congress promises the Right to Housing for the urban poor and protection from arbitrary eviction. We will build night shelters for the homeless so that no one will sleep in the open

Congress will launch a Slum Upgradation and Transformation Scheme to ensure basic services such as drinking water, electricity and sanitation to slum dwellers. Slums will be transformed by replacing huts and kuchha dwellings with proper houses, roads and other public facilities.

Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP seeks to hit the ground running by highlighting its strong performance on the infrastructure building front and the problems created by the Congress rule before 2014,

In the 10 years of UPA rule, policy paralysis and corruption had derailed infrastructural development. The last five years, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, infrastructural roll out has been put back on track. For the first time, India has started marching and is being seen on the path of global standards in infrastructure and civic amenities. The speed of constructing rural roads has doubled and 90% of rural road connectivity has been achieved. Furthermore, India has become a net exporter of electricity and has achieved maximum production of coal and maximum distribution of LED bulbs. There has been an unprecedented rise in the port capacity and the speed of setting up new rail lines, gauge conversion, and electrification of railway tracks has doubled. We have invested at an unprecedented level in building infrastructure in the last five years. This includes massive budgetary allocation for railways, highways, village roads and other health as well as educational infrastructure. We have also started and matured into a new technology driven platform called PRAGATI (Pro-active Governance and Timely Implementation). Through this, mechanism, we are de-bottlenecking major projects on a regular basis through video conference with offcials across the country.

Much like the INC, the BJP has a dedicated section for basic infrastructure, particularly roadways and railways, albeit with greater number of points in each. For roadways, the BJP says

In continuation to our existing milestone of constructing roads at an unprecedented pace, we will construct 60,000 kms of National Highways in the next five years.

We will double the length of National Highways by 2022. We will complete the Phase-1 of Bharatmala Project expeditiously. We will also launch Bharatmala 2.0 project especially with a view to support the states to develop state road networks connecting the interior regions to the main roads and to effectively leverage the economic potential and market opportunities of the concerned regions.

The referenced Bharatmala project is a centrally-sponsored and funded roadways project for building roads for more than 83,500 km by the Indian government at a staggering investment of ₹5.35 lakh crore, making it the single largest outlay for a government road construction scheme. The project will build highways Gujarat and Rajasthan, moving north to Haryana and Punjab, then covering the states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir and some portions of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, before finally moving to West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Manipur. Bharatmala is slated to connect 550 district headquarters to minimum 4-lane highway by raising the number of corridors to 50 and moving 80% freight traffic to national highways.

On roadways, the BJP goes on to say

We will bring in new technologies and designs in road construction, operation and maintenance.

We want to become a world leader in e-mobility. 10,000 crores have already been allocated to launch a programme for promoting clean energy and battery operated vehicles. We will further work on this front to ensure expansion of this new mobility experience.

When it comes to railways, the BJP says

We have made all efforts to make the experience of rail journey safe, smooth, clean and satisfying and have achieved great results. We will continue the pace of work in this regard and encourage private participation in the development of railway amenities and infrastructure and provision of services.

We will make all efforts to ensure electrification of all railway tracks by 2022.

We will equip all main railway stations with Wi-Fi facility by 2022.

We will ensure conversion of all viable rail tracks to broad gauge by 2022.

We will expand connectivity and experience of high speed trains and new version trains such as Vande Bharat Express across the length and breadth of the country in the next five years.

We will complete the dedicated freight corridor project by 2022.

We will launch a massive programme for modernization of railway stations in the country.

The BJP also promises to double the number of airports from 101 as it stands, in the next five years. Another area it looks at is coastal development, on which it says

We will double our port capacity in the next five years.

We will further encourage integrated development of coastal areas including coastal cities, coastal transport and coastal industrialization.

We will undertake the upgradation of infrastructure for connecting the coast and hinterland to ensure smooth transportation.

We will continue to focus on development of inland waterways for shipping inland cargo movement from road and rail to water transport.

Potential of coastal development for transportation, tourism and for economic upliftment of coastal communities has remained unexploited in the country. To exploit this potential fully, we have launched the Sagarmala programme and will ensure speedy completion of the projects under this programme.

Moving on to the key area of infrastructure related to energy and electrification, the BJP has the following to say

We had made a commitment to provide 24×7 electricity to all and the country has substantially attained the goal. All remaining villages have been electried. Similarly, almost all remaining households have been provided with an electricity connection. Thus, we are near completion of our promise in a record time. We will further work towards completing any unfinished task in this regard.

Exceptional work has been done in adding to the electricity generated and in laying down of transmission lines and in putting up the nationwide transmission grid. With these milestone
achievements, India can now claim that quantum of or access to electricity is no longer an issue. In fact, India has also become a net exporter of electricity. Now, we will work towards:

Ensuring a right mix of energy which leads towards a cleaner environment.

Supplying quality electricity to all consumers.

Making the state electricity entities financially sound and administratively more efficient.

India has become a global champion in addressing the issues of climate change through effective and feasible interventions. We have achieved cumulative installed renewable energy capacity of 76.87 GW as on February, 2019 and are on track to achieve our goal of 175 GW by 2022. We will continue our efforts in this regard and make it a popular movement. We will further make all efforts to invite other countries of the world to become members of the International Solar Alliance.

Even though the BJP government is far from electrifying every home as it had envisioned, it has come a long way by bringing electricity connections to 23.9 million households across 25 states, as per the government’s Press Information Bureau. On the connectivity front, the BJP government also seeks to connect every Gram Panchayat with high speed optical fibre network by 2022.

Human beings need water above all else (arguably). As a result, infrastructure for harnessing and using water resources is extremely important. The BJP also looks into this with the following points

Water is a critical resource but its management is spread across various departments, even at the Central level. We will form a new Ministry of Water unifying the water management functions to approach the issue of water management holistically and ensure beer coordination of efforts. The Ministry will expeditedly take forward the ambitious programme, conceptualized by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for linking rivers from different parts of the country and ensure a solution to the problems of drinking water and irrigation. We will initiate work on this programme by constituting an authority.

We will launch ‘Jal Jivan Mission’ under which we will introduce a special programme, ‘Nal se Jal’ to ensure piped water for every household by 2024.

We will ensure sustainability of water supply through special focus on conservation of rural water bodies and ground water recharge.

Even though I am highly cautious about the river-water linking project, due to ecological reasons, the BJP seems to be going in the direction of dedicated efforts to make India have enough water in every household, across the country.

Last but definitely not the least, going by the principle of ‘cleanliness is next to godliness‘, the BJP plans to continue its ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan‘,

We have constructed over 9 crore toilets under our flagship programme, Swachh Bharat Mission. We will take the Mission to a new level through sustainable Solid Waste Management in every village. Through the mission, we will ensure 100% disposal of liquid waste through emphasis on faecal sludge management and reuse of waste water in rural, peri-urban and unsewered areas.

We will ensure that all habitations attain open defecation free status and those that have attained the status sustain the behavioural change

Agriculture and Labour

If there are two sectors that constitute the backbone of India, with regards to participation and occupation of the people in the country, it has to be the agriculture and labour (both organized and unorganized) sectors. Ensuring the welfare of our farmers and workers is crucial. Both the national parties have looked into this quite closely.

Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP begins by highlighting its work over the last five years in this area

Agriculture employs a large proportion of our labour force. In order to ensure remunerative prices for farmers, the minimum support price for 22 crops was increased to 1.5 times cost of production. In addition, we have curbed the large-scale diversion of subsidized farm inputs through measures like Neem-coating of urea, rolled out electronic National Agriculture Market (e-NAM), provided insurance cover to 14 crore farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and, most recently, introduced direct income support for 12 crore farming families through the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi. In the next five years, we will create a National Warehousing Grid, invest Rs 25 lakh crores in farm/rural productivity, introduce interest free Kisan Credit Cards and extend the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi to all farmers. We remain committed to the promise of doubling farmer incomes by 2022 and more resources will be made available if necessary.

The BJP promises to expand its Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojna for providing financial support to farmers,

Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana to all – We have launched Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana to ensure financial support to farmers owning land up to 2 hectares. We will further expand the coverage of the scheme to all the farmers in the country.

A major problem faced by farmers across the country is that of social security in their old age. Unlike in the organized sector, farmers are often seen to toil away on their farms well beyond the time that is slated as the retirement age in the formal sector. To ensure that this is not the case, the BJP promises pensions for small and marginal farmers,

Pension for small and marginal farmers – We will launch a pension scheme for all small and marginal farmers in the country so as to ensure social security to them on reaching 60 years of age.

The BJP also promises to commit to making an investment of Rs. 25 lakh crore to improve the productivity of the agri-rural sector and provide `short-term agriculture loans up to Rs. 1 lakh at a 0% interest rate for 1-5 years on the condition of prompt repayment of the principal amount’. The BJP has been running the scheme called the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana that has ensured risk mitigation and provided insurance cover for all farmers. However, by making enrolment of farmers under the scheme voluntary, the BJP has effectively made the scheme ineffectual to a large extent and sounded its death knell. The BJP does go on to promise the timely availability of improved seeds of promising varieties at affordable rates.

The BJP also looks at agri-allied industries closely. For one, it presents an Oilseeds Mission and the National Bee-Keeping and Honey Mission,

We will launch a new mission to achieve self-sufficiency in oil seeds and other agriproducts.

We will launch a National Bee-keeping and Honey Mission to ensure additional returns to the farmers. We will double the honey production from the present 1,15,000 MT by developing infrastructural facilities and providing marketing support.

The BJP also closely looks at animal husbandry

We have given utmost importance to the dairy sector and have established Kamdhenu Aayog for the conservation of indigenous species of cows. We will establish a network of mobile veterinary dispensaries to provide doorstep service to farmers.

We will roll out a model programme for periodic health checkup of all cattle and other domestic animals at the district level with the help of veterinary expenses from the public and private sector.

We will expand the coverage of immunization and eliminate Foot and Mouth Disease and Brucellosis.

We will launch a National Feed and Fodder Mission to eliminate the shortage of fodder.

It also promises to usher in a new phase of the blue revolution with steps promised for fisheries

We will launch ‘Matsya Sampada Yojana’ with an allocation of Rs. 10,000 crores to ensure availability of storage and marketing tools and infrastructure like ice-boxes, cold storages, ice-plants etc. for small and traditional fishermen.

We will promote aquaculture through easy access to credit.

We will facilitate farming of sea-weed, pearl as well as ornamental sh to ensure a beer return to the fishermen. We will bring all fishermen under the ambit of all welfare programmes and social security schemes with expanded coverage for accident insurance

One of the major problems when it comes to harvest has been that of procurement, storage and transportation. The BJP looks at warehousing and procurement in the following promises

We will build an efficient storage and transport mechanism for agriculture produce

  1. Our Pradhan Mantri Krishi SAMPADA Yojana highlights our focus on warehousing as a means of increasing farmers’ income. To fuher expand the warehousing infrastructure in the country, we will establish a National Warehousing Grid along National Highways to ensure necessary logistical linkages for warehousing of agricultural produce.
  2. To enable the farmer to store the agri-produce near his village and sell at a remunerative price at an appropriate time, we will roll out a new Village Storage Scheme of agri-produce. We will provide farmers with loans at cheaper rates on the basis of storage receipt of the agri-produce.

The BJP also seeks to encourage organic farming with specific proposals and promises:

We will promote chemical-free organic farming in an additional 20 lakh hectare of hilly, tribal and rainfed areas in the next 5 years.

We will launch a dedicated e-commerce poal to enhance the availability of organic produce to the doorsteps of consumers.

Goshalas in the country will be linked to the promotion of organic farming.

Promotion of organic eco-tourism in the vicinity of organic farming will also ensure additional income to the farmers.

Before procurement, however, comes the key point of irrigation. The BJP has completed work on 31 irrigation projects under Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana and work is slated to be completed soon on 68 more projects in phases up to December 2019. Continuing on this line of work, the BJP promises the following

We will further expand Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana to realize 100% irrigation potential of the country within a defined time-frame.

We will bring one crore hectares agricultural land under micro-irrigation, this would be supplemented with ‘fertigation’ to promote judicious use of fertilizers.

Since it is the age of technology, the BJP seeks to incorporate technology in this sector (including the use of AI!), with the following promises

We will create a mobile app based system for promoting the availability of agri-implements on rental/custom hiring basis.

We view solar energy as an additional source of income for farmers and will encourage solar farming on a massive scale so as to enable the ‘Annadaata’(food provider) to become ‘Urja-daata’ (energy provider).

Digitization of Land Records – On the lines of Aadhaar project, we will complete digitization of land records on a mission mode. We will implement second-generation land reforms to ensure title
guarantee for the landholder and reduce land-related litigation. We will create a model law for conclusive titling (in consultation with states) promoting title guarantee and title insurance and work with States to implement this system.

We will enable 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.

We will extensively use technology to ensure a beer knowledge of the market prices of various agroproducts for the benefit of farmers.

Last but not the least, the BJP seeks to work towards strengthening cooperatives of farmers and seeks to create 10,000 new Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) by 2022.

With regards to the welfare of the labour force, the BJP says

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.

They also promise to expand the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan scheme for ensuring pensions for all small shopkeepers. The BJP also focusses on the welfare of artisans with

We will create an umbrella scheme ‘Pradhan Mantri Kalanidhi Yojana’ to allow exible and customized packages of credit, working capital and social security options to provide comprehensive support to traditional arts.

Indian National Congress

The Congress has historically been a party of people from across various walks of life, in India. Be it the Champaner Satyagraha or the famous Dandi march, the Congress of the past thrived on grassroot movements and programmes, with an active involvement of the farmers and workers. It has maintained a healthy culture of helping them even to this day, and their manifesto this time reflects just that. The Congress begins by highlighting its plans and promises for both the organized and unorganized sectors.

We will encourage and support micro and small enterprises that collectivise unorganised sector workers including waste pickers and scrap collectors.

It makes a clear statement on minimum wages for workers in the unorganized sector.

Congress will ensure that notified minimum wages are paid to workers in the unorganised sector.

It also speaks about enabling and empowering association of workers and collective bargaining capacity of workers.

Congress will ratify ILO Convention 87 (Freedom of Association) and ILO Convention 98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining).

The Congress interestingly also focuses on a people who are ubiquitous but not always focused on, when it comes to policy and programmes: the street vendors.

 The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 will be implemented in letter and spirit.

The INC goes on to look at the rights and ration of migrant workers

Congress will guarantee portability for the ration card possessed by a migrant worker and right to access ration articles at the place of work.

Congress promises to establish Aajeevika Kendras (Livelihood Centres) in all major cities and towns where a migrant worker may register himself/herself in order to:

  1. Access government services
  2. Access basic healthcare
  3. Access crèches and schools for his or her children
  4. Access skill development and training centres
  5. Access legal services

On proposals for agriculture, the INC begins with a quote by Jawaharlal Nehru: ‘Everything can wait but not agriculture.’ As much as the BJP counted the things it had done in the last five years, INC counted the things that went wrong in the same period, by saying

In the last 5 years, under the BJP Government, the agriculture sector has been driven into deep crisis. Adequate MSP was denied for 4 years; the procurement machinery was non-existent or weak; debt of farmers mounted; prices of inputs increased steadily; credit was inadequate; demonetisation devastated the cash-based agricultural economy; co-operative credit societies and apex co-operative banks were denied the right to convert their deposits, thereby choking co-operative credit to the farmer; the terms of trade moved decisively against agriculture; the crop insurance scheme robbed the farmer and enriched the insurance companies; and with little or no support from the government farmers and farm labourers were left to fend for themselves.

Continuing on the policy of loan waivers carried out in three states recently, the Congress promises to waive the outstanding farm loans in other States as well if it comes to power. It apparently has set its target not only on loan waivers but making the farmers free from indebtedness with a `combination of remunerative prices, lower input costs, and assured access to institutional credit’. They go on to highlight that debt is a civil liability and should not be passed through a criminal proceeding if a farmer cannot repay his debt. They also let loose the prospect of a separate ‘Kisaan Budget‘ to prioritize the problems of the farmers, besides also seeking to set up a National Commission on Agricultural Development and Planning to `examine and advise the government on how to make agriculture viable, competitive and remunerative’.

The INC highlights the plans it has for marginal farmers and agriculture labour, before proposing to completely restructure the BJP government’s much-debated-on crop insurance scheme – the Fasal Bima Yojana

Congress also promises to establish a Commission on Marginal Farmers and Agricultural Labour to advise on policies and programmes that will help them earn income from higher wages and from non-crop based agriculture such as horticulture and floriculture, dairying and poultry.

We will completely re-design the BJP government’s failed Fasal Bima Yojana (Crop Insurance Scheme) that has only enriched the insurance companies at the cost of the farmers. We will direct insurance companies to offer crop insurance and charge premiums on the principle of ‘no profit, no loss’.

Not to be left behind, the INC also talks of the use of technology in agriculture and empowering Farmer Producer Companies/Organizations

Congress promises to work with State Governments to digitize land ownership and land tenancy records and, in particular, recognize ownership and tenancy rights of women farmers and
ensure women get the benefits of agriculture-related schemes.

Congress will promote Farmer Producer Companies/Organisations to enable farmers to access inputs, technology and markets

The INC talks of establishing farmers’ markets that will enable and empower farmers to market their produce.

We will establish farmers’ markets with adequate infrastructure and support in large villages and small towns to enable the farmer to bring his/her produce and freely market the same.

It also talks about warehousing and procurement briefly in one point:

Congress promises to formulate a policy to enable the construction of modern warehouses, cold storage and food processing facilities in every block of the country.

The INC also looks at ways to diversify produce, particularly tailoring them for market needs and requirements of the Public Distribution Service (PDS).

Congress will encourage farmers to diversify into the production of local varieties of millets and pulses that can be procured for the PDS, Mid-Day Meals Scheme and the ICDS programme.

It also talks of promoting dairy, poultry, horticulture, pisciculture and sericulture.

Congress promises a major programme to promote horticulture, pisciculture and sericulture for diversification and greater income for farmers. We will launch a national project to double the value of production in 5 years in dairying and poultry

The INC also talks of organic farming and the increase in funding for teaching and research that can aid agriculture.

Congress will promote organic farming, encourage farmers to use mixed fertilizers and pesticides, support verification of organic products, and help them secure better prices for organic products.

Congress promises to double the funding in 5 years for teaching, R&D, agriculture-related pure sciences and applied science and technology in the agricultural sector. We will establish a College of Agriculture and a College of Veterinary Sciences in every district of the country.

Another area of interest for me has been the area of land acquisition and forest rights, particularly of tribal communities. The INC does venture into that as well:

Congress promises that the distortions that have crept into the text and the implementation of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006 will be removed and the original purposes of the Acts restored and enforced.

And last but definitely not the least, the Congress aims to reinvigorate a scheme that it famously backed a decade or so back – the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA)

Building on past experience, Congress will re-design MGNREGA and provide for:

  1. Increasing the guaranteed days of employment up to 150 days in cases where 100 days have been achieved in a block/district

  2. Use of labour in the Waterbodies Restoration and the Wasteland Regeneration Missions

  3. Building village-level assets such as primary health centres, classrooms, libraries etc.

Economic Policy, Industry and Welfare

The economic policy of the country is a point of significance that cannot be sidelined, when it comes to policy directions of a prospective party-in-government. To do justice to this idea, both the BJP and INC have highlighted the key points they feel are important for their poll pitches, when it comes to industry and economics.

Indian National Congress

The Congress highlights that its two main objectives on the economic front are wealth creation and welfare of all Indians. It begins by saying

Congress economic philosophy is based on embracing the idea of an open and liberal market economy, creation of wealth, sustainable development, reduction of inequalities and assurance of welfare of all sections of the people. Such growth will be driven by the private sector and a viable public sector and underpinned by a robust system of social security.

Having been led by world-famous economist Dr. Manmohan Singh the last time they were in power, the INC prioritizes fiscal stability and the problem of fiscal deficit as a point of concern and interest

Congress promises to reverse the BJP Government’s fiddling with the target of fiscal deficit. Congress promises to achieve the target of 3 per cent of GDP by 2020-21 and remain under that limit. The revenue deficit will be contained, as far as possible, under 1 per cent of GDP. Off-Budget and extra-Budget borrowings will be faithfully reported with the justification for such debt and the means of servicing and repaying such debt.

The INC also ensures to work towards safeguarding the autonomy of the Reserve Bank of India

Congress promises to reverse the unwarranted and illegal interference by the BJP government into the functioning of the RBI. Congress will respect the autonomy of the RBI in matters reserved to the RBI under the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1939, including the formulation of monetary policy. However, the Governor shall periodically render an account to a committee of Parliament. Congress promises that the government will work closely with the RBI to ensure that fiscal policy and monetary policy are aligned to achieve the common goal of growth with price stability.

It goes on to highlight the four drivers of economic growth – private investment, government expenditure, domestic consumption and exports and its ideas and plans for each of these

We are the party that first declared the criticality of high and sustained economic growth measured by GDP. Congress reiterates its firm belief in a high rate of growth of GDP. Hence, the 4 drivers of economic growth are important and the Congress wishes to state its position on each of these:

  1. Private Investment: In an open, market economy, the private sector must play the lead role in identifying opportunities, mobilising resources, adopting advanced technology, producing goods and services, and securing domestic and foreign markets. Congress promises to extend full support to the private sector and to revive the animal spirits of our entrepreneurs.
  2. Government Expenditure: Government expenditure must play a lead role in the creation and provision of public goods. Congress promises adequate expenditure on roads, railways, waterways, drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, education, national and internal security.
  3. Domestic Consumption: In a developing country, rise in consumption is a sign of healthy economic growth. It is important that the poorer sections of our people consume more. Supply of goods and services must be abundant and prices must be reasonably stable. Congress will repose faith in the trading community and create a policy environment that will encourage domestic consumption.
  4. Exports: No country has achieved high economic growth without high growth of exports. An example is India during the Congress period from 2004 to 2014. Congress will adopt a policy on foreign trade that will ensure that exports become, once again, a key driver of economic growth.

I, for one, have often taken fiscal conservatism and savings as a personal priority. The Congress seems to be incentivising the same on the personal level as well.

Congress promises to encourage saving, especially household saving, through suitable rewards for savers. Savings provide the resources for investment. Our goal will be to achieve a savings level of 40 per cent of GDP and a Gross Capital Formation level of 35 per cent of GDP. We will work with banks and insurance companies to introduce simple financial products for households.

It also seeks to incentivise various kinds of investments, particularly Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), along with reviewing and working on Foreign Trade Policy

Sustained economic growth is the path toward creating wealth. Millions of people produce goods and services and they must have a large degree of freedom, unfettered by excessive regulations. Congress will provide a conducive policy climate that will recognise the contributions of the private sector and the public sector, promote entrepreneurship, encourage innovation, and employ advanced technology and reward risk-taking.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) plays a crucial part in development. FDI will be welcomed in all sectors, subject to exceptions on the ground of national security. Rules and regulations will be minimal. FDI will be accorded national treatment and there will be a level playing field for foreign and domestic investors. There will be no expropriation and no retrospective taxation.

Investments have to be prudently distributed among the different sectors—agriculture and allied activities, industry, and services with special emphasis on education and healthcare. Congress believes in the crucial role played by market in allocation of resources. Where it is absolutely necessary, there will be policy intervention to prevent misallocation of resources.

Congress promises to review all laws, rules and regulations governing investments within 3 months. Instruments that are inconsistent with a market economy or outdated or obstructionist will be repealed.

Foreign Trade Policy will be reviewed and restated within 3 months. Exports and imports shall be free and consistent with WTO rules. Any instrument that has the effect of altering this guiding principle will be supported by sufficient justification and its operation will be limited to a sunset date.

It also looks at increasing credits to various stakeholders within the economy, particularly the MSMEs

Every sector of the economy needs credit. A robust and healthy banking system, supplemented by non-banking finance companies, is critical to delivery of credit. While the RBI is the regulator of banks and NBFCs, the government has the responsibility to ensure that there is adequate liquidity, cash in circulation and flow of credit. The BJP Government denied adequate credit to MSMEs, agriculture, trade and exports. They created the NPA scare that brought lending to a virtual halt. A one-size-fits-all approach drove companies into insolvency. Demonetisation shut out all sources of informal credit. The result is that the agriculture sector is in acute distress, MSMEs are shut or struggling to survive, trade is paralysed, and the volume of merchandise exports was flat for 4 years. Congress promises to reverse these gross distortions and, working closely with the RBI, re-start the process of credit delivery and ensure sufficient liquidity and cash in circulation.

Going by the whole ‘Make in India’ mantra, the INC also seeks to boost the Indian manufacturing sector

India must increase the share of manufacturing from the current level of 16 per cent to 25 percent in a period of 5 years. Congress believes that anything that can be made in another country can
be made in India. Congress promises that it will adopt policies, formulate rules, levy taxes and reward entrepreneurship that will make India a global hub of manufacturing.

If the BJP has been pro-business with its laws and policies, can Congress be far behind?

Congress recognises that business—be it manufacturing or supply or trade or exports—runs best on predictable and stable laws, protection of property rights and sanctity of contracts. Congress promises to enact and enforce a comprehensive Law on Doing Business in India that will incorporate the best business practices and rules.

We will endeavor to bring every Fortune 500 company to set up a business in India.

Congress promises to encourage and incentivise starting of new businesses. The Angel Tax imposed on Start-Ups will be withdrawn completely. We will make India an innovation hub.

The INC also looks at the way in which public spending is carried out, with emphasis on disinvestment from non-core, non-strategic enterprises and also seeks to closely evaluate how governance needs to be carried out when it comes to market forces

Congress promises to disinvest from non-core, non-strategic central public sector enterprises.

Congress promises good and competent governance. The capacity of the traditional bureaucracy to deliver on our economic goals has been inadequate. We promise to induct into the administration good economic policy makers and managers and give them a large degree of autonomy to design and implement policies that will advance the economic goals of the government.

Unless we are vigilant, government has a tendency to interfere with markets as well as re-acquire control over trade, industry and business. Government has a role in an open and liberal market economy and it is worthwhile to state the Congress position on the role of government:

  1. We must get government out of gratuitous interventions in the market
  2. We must get government into addressing notable market failures through regulation (e.g. capital market, banking, etc.)
  3. We must build capacity in government to do the things it must do (e.g. taxation, delivery of public goods and services, etc.)

Last but definitely not the least, the INC looks at ways to reduce poverty in the country and how economic policies can be framed to do that

Congress is conscious that while much has been achieved since liberalisation in 1991, there is much more to be done. Between 2004 and 2014, 14 crore people were lifted out of poverty. That task has to be continued with renewed vigour. Congress promises that between 2019 and 2024, another 10 crore people will be lifted out of poverty and the ground will be prepared to wipe out poverty—and ensure that no one is left behind—by 2030.

To eliminate abject poverty by 2030, Congress will introduce Nyuntam Aay Yojana to provide Rs. 72,000 a year to the poorest 20 per cent families in India.

Congress believes that the size of India’s GDP and the level of Total Expenditure (Central and State Governments) allow us to undertake an ambitious programme of cash transfer to the poorest sections of the people without in anyway affecting the goal of fiscal prudence. The main features of the Minimum Income Support Programme (MISP) or Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) will be:

  1.  The target population will be 5 crore families who constitute the poorest 20 per cent of all families. They will be the beneficiaries of MISP or NYAY
  2. Each family will be guaranteed a cash transfer of Rs. 72,000 a year;
  3.  As far as possible, the money will be transferred to the account of a woman of the family who has a bank account or who will be urged to open a bank account
  4. There will a Design phase (3 months) followed by a Pilot and Testing phase (6–9 months) before roll-out
  5. The rollout will be implemented in phases
  6. The estimated cost will be <1 per cent of GDP in Year 1 and <2 per cent of GDP in Year 2 and thereafter
  7. As the nominal GDP grows and families move out of poverty, the cost will decline as a proportion of GDP

Congress will appoint an independent panel of eminent economists, social scientists and statisticians to oversee the design, testing, rollout and implementation of the programme. The
programme will move from one stage to the other only after a ‘go ahead’ from the panel. Congress intends to implement NYAY as a joint scheme of the Central and State Governments. The scheme will be funded through new revenues and rationalisation of expenditure. Current merit subsidy schemes that are intended to achieve specific objectives will be continued.

The Congress goal is that ‘No Indian Family Shall Be Left Behind.’

On the taxation front, the Congress seeks to `put an end to the tax terrorism unleashed by the BJP government that has put uncertainty and fear in the minds of individuals and businesses’.

Congress promises to enact the Direct Taxes Code in the first year of our government. It will usher in an era of simplicity, transparency, tax equity, easy compliance and impartial administration.

Congress promises that the Direct Taxes Code will levy taxes at reasonable and progressive rates having regard to the level of current incomes, income inequalities and the principles of tax equity.

The GST surge by the BJP seems to have hurt the Congress and they have planned an entire set of policy-steps under the umbrella topic of GST 2.0

Congress promises to review and replace the current GST laws with the GST 2.0 regime that will truly reflect the intent and purpose of a non-cascading, value-added, indirect tax.

The GST 2.0 regime will be based on a single, moderate, standard rate of tax on all goods and services. The rate will be revenue neutral to the current indirect tax revenues of the Central and State Governments and will take note of the potential of GST 2.0 to boost their tax revenues.

The GST 2.0 regime will levy a special rate of duty on demerit goods.

GST 2.0 will be easy to administer, easy to understand by the taxpayer, and easy to comply with. We are confident that GST 2.0 will promote growth, new businesses and employment. The website under GST 2.0 will be re-designed and made user-friendly with inputs from the taxpayers.

Congress promises that Real Estate (all sectors), Petroleum Products, Tobacco and Liquor will be brought within the ambit of GST 2.0 in a manner and time period not exceeding 2 years agreed to in the GST Council.

Essential goods of mass consumption (such as food grains, lifesaving drugs, vaccines, etc.) and essential services will be exempted from GST 2.0 or zero-rated.

All goods and services that are exported will be zero-rated and not subject to GST 2.0.

Congress promises that threshold exemption for small businesses will not be affected by inter-state supply of goods or services.

In order to support small, unregistered businesses that supply goods and services, there will be no GST liability on the purchaser through the reverse charge mechanism.

Congress promises to abolish the e-way bill. Tax evasion will be detected through the risk management mechanism and strengthening the intelligence machinery.

Congress will endeavor to allocate a share of GST revenues to Panchayats and Municipalities.

Congress promises that a taxpayer will be required to file a simple, single quarterly return for his/her business and an annual return. Every tax payer will be subject to assessment by a single authority based upon turnover.

The GST Council will be the policy-making body and will be served by a permanent secretariat of tax economists, tax policy experts and tax professionals. Its minutes will be put in the public domain.

Congress promises that the DTC and GST 2.0 will be essentially civil laws and any violations will attract civil penalties that will be proportionate to the tax evaded. Prosecution under DTC and GST 2.0 will be only in cases of criminal conspiracy or corruption or fraud.

The INC ends its economic promises with a section on competitive banking and financial sector, with an emphasis on Public Sector Banks, Non Banking Financial Company (NBFCs) and Development Banks.

Congress promises a comprehensive review of the concept, role and functions of Public Sector Banks (PSBs) in order to make PSBs robust and competitive with healthy balance sheets.

Congress will amalgamate 2 or more PSBs so that there will be only 6-8 PSBs with a national presence and reach. Each of the amalgamated PSBs will be adequately capitalised.

We will undertake a comprehensive review of the governance structure of PSBs and implement changes to make the PSB an independent commercial banking organisation that is competitive, healthy, efficient and profitable. We will abolish the redundant Banking Board Bureau.

Congress promises that PSBs will continue to implement policies to serve the larger public interest including lending to priority and other disadvantaged sectors that are denied adequate credit.

We are concerned by the recent failure of some NBFCs that has affected the bond market, mutual funds and the flow of credit. Congress promises to review and strengthen the regulatory regime of NBFCs in order to prevent such failures and to restore investor confidence.

We will take the necessary policy and administrative measures to develop a robust, deep and liquid corporate bond market, municipal bond market and infrastructure investment trusts.

Congress promises to promote new Development Banks in order to provide long-term credit to development and infrastructure projects.

Indian-owned new technology companies face a stiff capital barrier when they are poised to scaleup to global size and standards. Congress will set up an India Global Companies Fund and create a policy environment to support Indianowned companies to become global companies.

Congress will encourage the establishment of State-level and Regional-level institutions, including small banks, to provide bank credit to MSMEs. Congress will also encourage State
Governments to revive State Financial Corporations to provide long-term credit and risk capital to MSMEs.

We will strengthen and technologically-enable Regional Rural Banks and Banking Correspondents to accelerate financial inclusion so that citizens are provided banking services in their
neighbourhood.

Congress will work with the RBI to simplify the KYC process, avoid repetitive verification, and use a wider range of documents for the purpose.

Congress promises to take necessary measures to develop a deep and broad securities market that will offer products that will attract more investors to the securities market, give them safe and adequate returns and offer investment solutions to their long term needs.

We will adopt policies to attract more investment—Indian and foreign—in our financial markets.

We promise to take hard measures to prevent fraud in the banking, securities and financial markets (including money collection schemes) and deliver swift and deterrent punishment to offenders.

Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP hits off this section on a strong note, with an emphasis on its achievements in the last five years

India was branded as ‘fragile five’ in 2014. Within five years, we have turned India into a bright spot that is not only the fastest growing major economy of the world but also enjoys macroeconomic stability. We have already become the world’s sixth largest economy and will soon be among the top five. We aspire to make India the third largest economy of the world by 2030. This implies that we commit to make India a US $ 5 trillion economy by 2025 and US $ 10 trillion economy by 2032.

When compared to all governments post-1991, this government has delivered the highest rate of average GDP growth (7.3%) over the last five years and maintained lowest rate of average consumer inflation (4.6%). The consumer inflation is presently at 2.6%. This has been achieved with lower fiscal deficits and significantly lower current account deficit as a percentage of GDP. Average fiscal deficit as a percentage of GDP during 2014-19 has been brought down to 3.7% from 5.4% during 2009-14. Reduction in fiscal deficit of this order implies less burden of debt on future generations by almost Rs.16 lakh crores. Average Current account deficit as a percentage of GDP during this government has been reduced to 1.5% from 3.3% during 2009-14.

The BJP begins by focusing on the taxation regime in the country, emphasizing the Good and Services Tax (GST) as a major accomplishment

Our economic policy has been guided by the principle of lowering the tax rate and improving compliance; thereby broadening of the tax base. With improved compliance and increased tax base, the tax to GDP ratio has reached 12%, highest in the recent past, up from 10.1% in 2013-14. This increased revenue has been deployed for benefits to the poor and creation of infrastructure at an unprecedented level. We will continue with our policy in the similar manner – lowering of tax rate thereby rewarding honest tax payers and improving compliance.

Goods and Service Tax (GST) has resulted in overall lowering of tax rates and increased revenue collection, particularly for States. When compared to base year of 2015-16, GST revenue for all states have increased by 50% in three years. We will continue with the simplification of GST process by engaging in dialogue with all stakeholders.

The BJP goes on to talk about its aim to drive for investment-driven growth

While social security net for the poor and farmers will be expanded, we will take up capital investment in the country to a new height. By 2024, we will make capital investment of Rs.100 lakh crore in the infrastructure sector. We recognize that investment driven growth requires cheaper cost of capital. By anchoring inflation at 4% and cleaning up our banking system we have created the space for structural reduction in the cost of capital. This will not only help infrastructure investment but investment also in the wider economy. Thus, new India will be built on the basis of investment driven growth.

Another key aspect of the BJP’s tenure and economic policy has been Make in India, and the BJP seeks to continue pushing for the same.

With the aim of developing India into a knowledge based, skill supported and technology driven society, we have launched the ‘Make in India’ campaign. A beginning has already been made through our initiatives like Digital India, Startup India and Skill India. To bring in fast and inclusive growth, we have also carried out substantial reforms in the last few years in terms of de-regulation and delicensing, with an aim to improve ease of doing business. More than 90% FDI approvals are now through the automatic route. FDI has grown by almost 50% in the last five years. Similarly, implementation of One Nation, One Tax through GST has brought all businesses under single tax net.

The BJP also seeks to make India a global manufacturing hub, particularly with strengthening the Companies Act and framing a new industrial policy to improve competitiveness in the manufacturing and services sectors.

As we position India as a global manufacturing hub over the next five years, we will take the following steps:

  1. Top 50 Ranking in Ease of Doing Business Index- In the last four years, India has climbed 65 places in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index. We will fuher work in this direction to take the country’s ranking into the top 50.

  2. Strengthening Companies Act – In order to incentivize compliance of law and ease of doing business, we will amend the Companies Act to impose civil liability for technical and procedural defaults of a minor nature thus unclogging the majority of the cases from the courts.

  3. New Industrial Policy – We will announce a new industrial policy to improve competitiveness of manufacturing and services with an eye on Industry 4.0 in order to gear up for technologies like artificial intelligence and electric mobility. Special effort will be made for MSMEs.

  4. Network Approach for Growth – We understand that clustering and network effects are important in order to build competitiveness in cuing edge industries. Therefore, we will invest in creating clusters/networks that can take on the world’s best. Public procurement and government incentives will be used actively to build up these clusters and encourage job creation.

The BJP seeks to work for the interests of the Micro, Small and Medium Industries (MSMEs), particularly with schemes like the Credit Guarantee Scheme

A special package was launched by the Government to boost the MSME sector. The Credit Guarantee Scheme of the Government of India is an impoant component wherein loans to MSME are guaranteed. Under this alone, the credit of around Rs.19,000 crore was achieved in 2017-18. We would aim to take this gure to Rs.1,00,000 crore by 2024.

Technology access and upgradation are key elements in the MSME sector. Our government has taken a major step in expanding of ‘Technology Centres’ and we would achieve more than 150 such centres all over the country by 2024. These Technology Centres would help in mentoring skilling and prototyping of MSMEs. They will expose MSMEs to Aicial Intelligence, Robotics, Internet of Things, Viual Reality, BlockChain technology and Zero Defect Zero Eect.

The Technology Centres, other skilling centres of MSMEs and NSICs incubation centres alone would provide focussed and high level skilling to more than 6 lakh people per year

Welfare of Small Traders-

  1. We will establish National Traders’ Welfare Board and create a National Policy for Retail Trade for the growth of retail businesses.
  2. To protect the interests of small traders, we will provide an accident insurance of 10 lakh rupees to all the traders registered under GST.
  3. On the lines of Kisan credit card, we will also create a scheme to give merchant credit card to registered merchants

The BJP has tried to make the youth ‘job givers’ and not just ‘job seekers’ by encouraging startups and entrepreneurship. They continue to do so here as well, with promises for helping startups and entrepreneurs.

To encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship amongst the youth, we will launch a new scheme to provide collateral-free credit up to 50 lakh for entrepreneurs. We will guarantee 50% of the loan amount for female entrepreneurs and 25% of the loan amount for male entrepreneurs.

India is now among the largest startup ecosystems of the world. We will further strengthen this ecosystem by:

  1. Easing regulatory requirement for start-ups
  2. Targeting time spent for tax compliance at 1 hour per month
  3. Facilitating establishment of 50,000 new startups in the nation by 2024
  4. Creating 100 Innovation Zones in Urban Local Bodies
  5. Setting up 500 new incubators and accelerators by 2024
  6. Initiating ranking of Central Ministries, departments, State Governments and CPSUs for their increased engagement with startups and in bringing in innovation and newer technologies and global practices and skills

We will continue to promote and encourage startups through creation of a ‘Seed Startup Fund’ of ₹20,000 crore.

We will support entrepreneurial ventures started by individuals from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Communities, or Economically Weaker Sections and take forward the ‘Standup India’ initiative

We will set-up new ‘Entrepreneurial Northeast’ scheme to provide financial support to the micro, small and medium industries and for employment generation in the Northeastern state

Besides using tourism as the central point for boosting various associated service sector pursuits, the BJP also seeks to continue its push for transparency and discipline within the economy.

We will continue our crackdown on Benami properties and illegal foreign bank accounts to benefit honest taxpayers and the poor of the country. We will also expedite our actions to bring fugitive economic offenders back to India and prosecute them for their crimes.

The BJP ends this segment by talking about promoting international trade and making clearance procedures more efficient.

We will ensure faster customs clearance of international cargo by relaxing clearance procedures, introducing self-declaration etc and adopting new scanning technology. We will also provide adequate financial and institutional support for exporters and expo organizations to build capacity and equip them with adequate information to ensure unhindered expos.

Speaking on poverty, the BJP says

We are committed to bringing down the percentage of families living below the poverty line to a single digit in the next five years.

The BJP goes on to talk about affordable and proper housing for all, particularly in rural India

We will ensure pucca houses for families living in kuchha houses by 2022.

They also highlight the drive for food security for all

We have been successful in extending the food security cover to over 80 crore people from poor and lower-middle-income families who are receiving food grains (wheat/rice/coarse grains) at highly subsidized prices. We will further widen this cover to provide subsidized sugar (at Rs. 13 per kg per family per month) to these families in line with our motto ‘Sabka Saath-Sabka Vikas’.

Speaking on financial inclusion of all within the economy of the country, the BJP highlights the success of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and seeks to continue working on the same.

The unprecedented success of the Jan Dhan Yojana has dramatically improved financial inclusion in India. We will take further steps to ensure access to bank branches, payment banks and banking correspondents by creating a new data-sharing framework that builds on the success of Jan Dhan and Aadhaar platforms while ensuring data privacy and security. With this scheme, we will ensure that every Indian has access to banking facilities within a radius of 5 km. We will also launch a technology enabled programme for broader financial literacy by complementing financial literacy with mass media campaigns to provide information on financial products and their use to enable effective participation of every Indian in the financial system.

The middle class in India constitutes an important section of the Indian population and the BJP speaks for the aspirations and interests of the middle class too

After providing major tax relief in the recent budget, we are committed to further revise the tax slabs and the tax benefits to ensure more cash and greater purchasing power in the hands of our middle income families.

We will make all efforts to ensure that our aspirational middle class has access to education, employment opportunities and suitable urban infrastructure for a better quality life.

There are some districts and places in the country that are under-developed. To augment their growth and to represent their interests, the BJP talks of geographical equity in the economy of the country

Inclusive development also means inclusion by geography. To this end, our Government has identified 115 aspirational districts that are being given special attention. We intend to continue with this effort to ensure that these districts catch up with the rest of the country. Similarly, we have already laid the foundation for economic and social progress of Eastern India through improved connectivity, construction of high impact infrastructure projects and provision of adequate financial resources. We intend to continue our efforts to resolve the geographical imbalance of the said region and ensure that Eastern India is an equal participant in the progress and growth of the nation. In PM Modi’s words, this is ‘Purvoday’ (Rise of the East).

Foreign Policy and Defence

The interests of the nation cannot be safeguarded without a strong defense and foreign policy. That is understood and highlighted in both the manifestos.

Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP begins with a grand but fairly realistic statement about India’s position in the world today

We believe that India’s time has come. She is emerging as a power and connecting stakeholders in a multi-polar world. The rise of India is the new reality and we shall play a major role in shaping global agenda in the 21st century.

I find it beautiful that the BJP seeks to internalize the idea of ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam‘ or ‘The whole world is my family’ to such an extent that they speak of humanitarian aid and intervention for countries around the world

‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ will form the basis in our global co-operation for progress, prosperity, peace and security, especially with friendly countries and neighbours. Besides working to secure and safeguard ‘global commons’, we will strengthen our role as ‘first responder’ for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance and develop partnerships for disaster resilient infrastructure.

The BJP makes global knowledge exchange and technology transfer a priority-point

We will make knowledge exchange and transfer of technology for the development of all countries a major focus of our diplomatic relations. As a pa of this, we will endeavour to create an ‘International Space Technology Alliance’ for beer coordination and cooperation on issues related to space technology to ensure that the benefits of space technology reach all, especially the smaller countries.

Given the large support-base that the BJP enjoys among NRIs, it is not surprising that the BJP makes the Indian diaspora an important part of its foreign policy with the following poll promise

We will create an institutional mechanism to deepen the relationship of culture and heritage with people of Indian origin, and to regularly engage with them. We will simultaneously launch ‘Bharat Gaurav’ campaign to increase interaction among the Indian diaspora and enable their continuous engagement with the Indian missions. We will strengthen the MADAD portal as single-point avenue for information and services for Indians living abroad.

The BJP says that it will pursue a zero tolerance approach to terrorism and shall keep national security interest above all else.

Our security doctrine will be guided by our national security interest only. This is exemplified by the Surgical Strikes and the Air Strikes carried out recently. We will firmly continue our policy of ‘Zero Tolerance’ against terrorism and extremism and will continue to follow our policy of giving a free hand to our security forces in combating terrorism

The BJP also makes counter-terrorism through dialogue and steps on international forums a point of interest and importance.

We are committed to taking concrete steps on international forums against countries and organizations supporting terrorism, and we will take all necessary measures to isolate such countries and organizations on the global stage. To ensure the same, we will work towards establishing a ‘Comity of Nations Against International Terrorism’ as a voluntary multi-lateral forum based on the principles of the draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.

The BJP seeks to have greater regional coordination and economic cooperation through forums such as the UN, G20, BRICS, Commonwealth, BIMSTEC and ASEAN.

We will effectively pursue co-operation against global evils, such as terrorism and corruption through forums like UN, the G20, BRICS, SCO, Commonwealth, etc. Significant interactions such as Russia India-China (RIC) and Japan-America-India (JAI) will be strengthened. To forward our ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, we will extensively leverage forums such as BIMSTEC, to accelerate regional coordination and economic co-operation with countries in our neighbourhood. Act East Policy, cooperation with ASEAN and ensuring an open, inclusive, prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific will be pursued vigorously.

The word is that Nehru and his Congress government did not secure for India when he may have been able to, was the permanent membership of the UN Security Council. This is exactly what the BJP wants to actively pursue now

We are committed to seeking permanent membership of the United Nation Security Council so that the body reflects the contemporary geopolitical realities of the world. We are determined to intensify our efforts towards these objectives.

The BJP also seeks to strengthen the diplomatic cadre of the country

We will increase the strength of the diplomatic and allied cadres to keep pace with our increasing global engagement and enhanced stature of India in the world. In addition, we will facilitate the participation of experts in foreign policy-making through a robust mechanism. We will establish a full- edged University of Foreign Policy, the first of its kind in the region, to focus on academic study and research on foreign policy and geopolitical issues relevant to India and capacity building of our and friendly foreign diplomats. India’s states will be actively assisted in their international outreach for economic development.

The BJP also seeks to make our security forces and the country stronger and self-reliant by investing in development and purchase of weapons and other defense paraphernalia,

We will speed up the purchases of outstanding defense related equipments and weapons. In order to equip the Armed Forces with modern equipment, we will continue to take focused steps to strengthen the strike capability of the Armed Forces.

In order to ensure self-reliance in 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 focus on ‘Make in India in Defence’ to enable indigenous production of defence equipment. This will also generate employment and encourage investment in the defence sector.

The BJP seeks to look after the welfare of the security forces of the country by working on the following promise

We have already demonstrated our commitment to the welfare of our veterans with the implementation of long delayed OROP. To take this commitment forward, we promise to create a more effective framework for the resettlement of our Armed Forces veterans. Under this effort, the Armed Forces will start planning for the resettlement of soldiers three years before their retirement and in accordance with their preferences. This will include provision for skills training, so skills training, financial support for higher education, for housing and for starting an enterprise.

To deal with problems arising in internal affairs of the country and to neutralize internal security challenges, the BJP seeks to strengthen the police force

We will continue to take forward the process of modernizing the Central Armed Police Forces to further increase their capacity and readiness and enable them to effectively combat internal security challenges.

We will provide assistance to the states to upgrade their police forces through the ‘Scheme for Modernization of Police Forces’. We will encourage expedited police reforms in the states so as to enable the State police forces to deal with new types of crimes like cyber crime and help them to be more sensitive to the citizens, especially the weak and vulnerable sections of the society.

The BJP seeks to combat infiltration into the country with the completion of its National Register of Citizens and reinforce border police forces to prevent infiltration, particularly in the northeastern states of India.

There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local people’s livelihood and employment. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens process in these areas on priority. In future we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country.

We will continue to undertake effective steps to prevent illegal immigration in the Northeastern states. For this, we will further strengthen our border security. A pilot project on the use of technology to strengthen border security (Smart Fencing) was implemented in Dhubri (Assam). We will implement this on all borders.

We will focus on creation of developmental and other necessary infrastructure in border areas to ensure that border security is strengthened, and to enable increased paicipation of and benefits for border areas in the country’s development and progress.

We have completed building six integrated check-posts with another under construction to facilitate easier trade and travel from the neighboring countries. We will fuher ease the movement of goods and people by constructing 14 more integrated check-posts by 2024. After completion of all the proposed integrated check-posts, all trade movement with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan will be conducted through the integrated check-posts

Envisioning defense on all fronts, the BJP then goes on to talk about coastal defense

After effectively strengthening coastal security through implementation of a coastal security scheme to provide modern equipment and allocating funds to the states for establishing coastal police stations, establishment of National Committee for Strengthening Maritime & Coastal Security, Island Information System and National Academy of Coastal Policing, we will continue to take steps for ensuring security of India’s long coastline.

The BJP reiterates its support for the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill 

We are committed to the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Bill for the protection of individuals of religious minority communities from neighbouring countries escaping persecution. We will make all efforts to clarify the issues to the sections of population from the Northeastern states who have expressed apprehensions regarding the legislation. We reiterate our commitment to protect the linguistic, cultural and social identity of the people of Northeast. Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians escaping persecution from India’s neighbouring countries will be given citizenship in India.

The Bill has been contentious due to only specific communities being under the purview of the protection offered by the Indian state, in the instance of seeking asylum. They also go on to speak specifically about countering Left wing extremism, particularly with regards to the Maoist insurgency

We have already taken strong actions to reduce left wing extremism to a very large extent and limited them to small pockets. We are committed to taking necessary and effective steps against left wing extremism to eliminate this menace in the next five years. In the last five years, we have focused on the development of economic and social infrastructure such as roads, mobile towers, schools and medical facilities in the tribal areas affected by left wing extremism and we will continue to make efforts in this direction.

This is particularly interesting since the reason offered by most for the continued Maoist insurgency is the deprivation and under-representation of communities living in those areas within the national framework and discourse. If that can be changed and a positive change can be brought on that front, the seed of rebellion and discontent can be uprooted.

Last but not the least is the question of Jammu and Kashmir and the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. The BJP reiterates its position of seeking to do so and try to integrate the state into the country in a manner similar to any other state in India.

In the last five years, we have made all necessary efforts to ensure peace in Jammu and Kashmir through decisive actions and a rm policy. We are committed to overcome all obstacles that come in the way of development and provide adequate financial resources to all the regions of the state. We reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrogation of Article 370.

We are committed to annulling Article 35A of the Constitution of India as the provision is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir. We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state. We will take all steps to ensure a safe and peaceful environment for all residents of the state. We will make all efforts to ensure the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits and we will provide financial assistance for the resettlement of refugees from West Pakistan, Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) and Chhamb.

Indian National Congress

The INC begins with a snide at what it calls the BJP’s `chest-thumping or exaggerated claims’ on national security, and seeks to build a sound defence policy and foreign policy.

It begins by highlighting its policy on modernization of the Indian armed forces and increased defense spending

Congress will reverse the trend of declining defence spending under the NDA government, and will ensure that defence spending is increased to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces. We will expedite all modernisation programmes of the armed forces in a transparent manner.

Congress promises to rapidly expand domestic capacity to manufacture defence and security equipment. We will create manufacturing capacities in the public sector and in pre-qualified, security-cleared private sector companies.

The Congress commits to not only to safeguard the territorial integrity of India but also defend it when it comes to data security, cyber security, financial security, communication security and security of trade routes.

Congress promises to take strategic and hard measures to defend the territorial integrity of India and ensure the safety of our people.

The concept of national security in the 21st century has expanded beyond defence of the territory to include data security, cyber security, financial security, communication security and security of trade routes. Congress promises to evolve suitable policies to address each of these subjects.

The Congress promises to establish the office of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) (who would be the principal adviser to the Government on matters relating to defense), to provide a statutory basis to the National Security Council (NSC) and the office of National Security Adviser (NSA), and to re-establish the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB).

The INC seeks to curb internal security challenges by establishing the National Counter-terrorism Centre and NATGRID.

The key to internal security is intelligence, analysis and quick response. Congress had put in place the Multi-Agency Centre and the NSG regional hubs. Congress had also proposed to establish the National Counter-Terrorism Centre and NATGRID. The BJP government dismantled the preparatory work and wasted 5 years. NCTC was put in the cold storage and NATGRID is yet to be made operational. Congress promises that NCTC will be set up within 3 months and NATGRID will be made operational by December 2019.

When it comes to the internal threats, the Congress believes the primary priority is to counter terrorism, infiltration of militants, Maoism or Naxalism and caste or communal violence. The INC believes that each of these threats deserve a distinct strategy and response.

We promise an uncompromising approach and hard measures to put an end to terrorism and to the infiltration of militants.

In the case of Maoism, the Congress will resolutely fight violent activities. At the same time, Congress will address developmental challenges in the areas concerned, enlist the support of the people and win over the Maoist cadres.

In the case of caste or communal violence, Congress will put down such violence with a firm hand using the police forces at its command, apprehend the instigators and bring them to justice. There will be no room for self-appointed vigilante groups and moral policing brigades.

On the topic of border security, the INC promises to do the following things

We will increase the strength of border guarding forces—BSF, SSB, ITBP and Assam Rifles—and post them on or close to the border to prevent infiltration, illegal immigration and smuggling.

We will construct modern, well-equipped Integrated Border Outposts to provide good working and living conditions for the forces. The distance between 2 border outposts will be reduced. The period of posting in high altitude border outposts will be reduced to 3 months at a time.

We will accelerate the construction of border roads along all borders of India, especially, the India-China border. We will enhance the capacity of the Border Roads Organisation and create separate divisions to build roads along the India-China and the India-Myanmar borders.

When it comes to the welfare of the security forces and ex-servicemen, the INC proposes the following things

Under the UPA Governments, Congress accepted the principle of One Rank One Pension (OROP) and took 3 steps in 2006, 2010 and 2013 towards implementing the same. In February 2014, the UPA Government decided to close the gap for all retirees in all ranks. Ex-servicemen believe that the BJP Government has not implemented OROP to their satisfaction. Congress promises to remove the anomalies in the implementation of OROP.

Congress promises to formulate and implement a policy of compensation to the families of martyrs that will include full pay and allowances, funding children’s education, a government job for a member of the martyr’s family and suitable monetary compensation.

Congress will formulate and implement a policy that will allow Armed Forces personnel, who retire after a period of colour service or earlier, lateral entry into the civil services based on
their qualifications.

We will also allow Armed Forces personnel who retire before the age of 40 years to enter the Central Armed Police Forces at suitable levels based on their qualifications and physical fitness.

Congress promises to substantially expand the capacity of the Armed Forces medical corps and hospitals to cater to the needs of ex-servicemen and their families.

Congress will revise the procedure to determine the disability of injured armed forces personnel and make the determination final subject to an appeal only at the instance of the disabled person. All pending appeals filed by the Ministry of Defence will be withdrawn.

The INC also focusses on strengthening the police force, particularly the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) in the country.

Congress will work with State Governments to increase the strength of State police forces, fill all vacancies, equip and train them, and deploy them impartially to maintain law and order and to detect and punish violators and instigators.

We will increase the strength of the CAPFs to meet the growing requirements of border security and internal security

At any given time, an adequate number of battalions will be on rest, recuperation and training and will not be deployed on operational duties.

Congress promises to ensure increased representation of women to achieve a minimum of 33 per cent in the force strength of CISF, CRPF and BSF. Every effort will be made to induct more women into the other border guarding forces, namely, ITBP, SSB and Assam Rifles.

We will enhance the facilities of health, education and housing for the personnel of the CAPFs and their families to bring them on par with the facilities provided for the Armed Forces. We will set up schools on the model of Sainik schools to enhance educational opportunities for their children.

Congress promises to enhance the status of the jawan and the benefits to the families of jawans in cases were the jawan dies in action.

We will set up a Committee to draft new Service Rules for personnel of the CAPFs.

The INC also looks at ways to counter crimes against women and individual from Schedules Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities. It also seeks to reduce the occurrence of rioting and widespread breakdown of law and order by decentralizing power and investing the district administrations with the responsibility to maintain order.

Congress promises to take strong action with respect to crimes against women, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities. The law will be applied on the perpetrators without fear or favour. They will not be allowed to walk on the streets with a sense of impunity.

Congress will hold the District Administration responsible for riots, caste or communal violence, large scale crimes against women, and for the widespread breakdown of law and order.

On Jammu and Kashmir, the INC says the following

Congress has long held the view that dialogue is the only way to understand the aspirations of the people of the 3 regions of Jammu & Kashmir and find an honourable solution to their issues. We will take that path.

We will adopt a two-pronged approach: firstly, uncompromising firmness on the border and ending infiltration; and secondly, absolute fairness in dealing with the demands of the people and winning their hearts and minds.

Congress promises to review the deployment of armed forces, move more troops to the border to stop infiltration completely, reduce the presence of the Army and CAPFs in the Kashmir Valley, and entrust more responsibility to the J&K police for maintaining law and order.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Disturbed Areas Act in J&K will be reviewed. Suitable changes will be made in the text of the laws to balance the requirements of security and the protection of human rights.

Building a Union of States that is India is a project of inclusiveness. Jammu & Kashmir and its problems deserve a large-hearted approach that will eschew muscular militarism and legalistic formulations and look for an innovative federal solution. Congress promises to find such a solution through patient dialogue and talks with all stakeholders in the State.

Congress promises the people of J&K talks without pre-conditions. We will appoint 3 interlocutors drawn from civil society to facilitate such talks

When it comes to foreign policy, the INC has a multi-pronged and fairly nuanced approach. Having been the historical architects of the Non-Aligned Movement and a key player in the initial days of the SAARC grouping, when in power, the INC has some history and heritage to back it up, when it comes to foreign policy. It talks of establishing a National Council on Foreign Policy and working closely with India’s neigbours, besides pushing for Pakistan to stop supporting any and every terrorist group that may be located on its territory and also to push for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for India. With the continued surge of China in the geopolitics of the Indian subcontinent, it is heartening to see the emphasis and focus on foreign policy measures by the principal opposition party of India.

Congress affirms its firm belief in the continued relevance of the policy of friendship, peaceful co-existence, non-alignment, independence of thought and action, and increased bilateral
engagement in its relations with other countries of the world.

Congress promises to establish a National Council on Foreign Policy consisting of members of the Cabinet Committee on Security, scholars, domain experts and diplomats to advise the Government on matters concerning foreign policy.

We will work closely with all countries of the world, and particularly India’s neighbours and the G-20 countries, in various multi-lateral forums and institutions.

Foreign Trade will be an important element of our foreign policy and we promise to make every effort to significantly increase trade with other countries.

It was a Congress government that opened India’s economy to other countries of the world. Congress promises to strengthen its relations with other countries through enhanced economic
co-operation, two-way investments and closer relations between businesspersons.

Congress is implacably opposed to terrorism anywhere in the world and promises to work with other countries to eliminate terrorist groups, terrorist acts and cross-border terrorism. We will persuade the United Nations to constantly review the list of terrorists and to expand the scope of sanctions

Congress will take determined steps to persuade other countries to compel Pakistan to verifiably end its support to the terrorist groups that it shelters.

Congress promises to pass a Law on Asylum consistent with international treaties and conventions.

We will re-double the efforts to win for permanent membership India in the UN Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Congress will work with SAARC and ASEAN countries to enhance the volume of trade, investments, tourism and cultural exchanges and reap the benefits of geographical proximity.

Congress promises to establish effective mechanisms with neighbouring countries, especially Sri Lanka and Pakistan, to resolve the problems faced by fishermen, to eliminate conflict, coercive action and loss of lives, and to improve livelihood opportunities for our fishing communities.

We will strengthen the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, expand its engagement with other countries and encourage the Council to increase the projection of India’s soft power globally.

Congress promises to increase significantly the size of the Foreign Service, induct domain experts and scholars, open more missions abroad, participate more effectively in international organisations, leverage our growing economy and acquire a position of leadership in the world.

Not to be left behind, the INC also lays out its plan to engage with the Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and the Indian diaspora

Congress promises to re-establish the Ministry of Overseas Indians that will be tasked to address the concerns of NRIs including their safety, conditions of work, social security and
health benefits, education of their children, need for financial services and safe return to India.

Congress will task India’s Missions abroad to pay special attention to work safety and work conditions of Indian citizens in foreign countries. We will appoint a Committee of Overseas Indian Citizens to review the work of the Missions in this regard.

We will review and expand the opportunities for higher education and review the fee structure for the children of NRIs in colleges and universities in India.

Congress promises to design and promote an NRI Invest Scheme to offer more opportunities and options to NRIs to invest in India. We will establish a single point of contact and simplify the procedures to enable NRIs to invest in businesses in India.

Miscellaneous

Both manifestos have some interesting miscellaneous sections that reflect priority points of the parties. I would briefly like to look into them and comment on how it could affect the elections and respective party’s poll prospects.

Indian National Congress

The INC talks of a number of other topics at great length, including the rights of linguistic and religious minorities, by policies such as the passing of a new law against hate crimes and the use of sign language for official tasks by disabled individuals.

Congress promises to uphold the rights of religious minorities: to non-discrimination, to equal opportunity in employment, to religious freedom and to establish educational institutions guaranteed under Articles 15, 16, 25, 26, 28, 29 and 30 of the Constitution.

We also promise to uphold the rights of linguistic minorities: to non-discrimination, to equal opportunity in employment and to establish educational institutions guaranteed under Articles 15, 16, 29 and 30 of the Constitution.

Congress promises that rules will be made to ensure that the decennial census accurately enumerates the number of people claiming a language as their mother tongue or as their preferred spoken language.

Congress promises to support the promotion of all the languages of our country including languages not included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. We will encourage, as far as possible, the use of such languages, including the languages of Scheduled Tribes and Nomadic Tribes, in the administration of areas where such languages are widely spoken by the people.

We support the use of Sign Language that is used by millions of people with disabilities.

Congress supports the principle that school education is best imparted in the mother tongue of the child and promises to support the efforts of State
Governments to promote the use of the mother tongue as the preferred medium of instruction.

We will also support the efforts of State Governments to teach the official language(s) of the State, as well as Hindi and English to children of that State.

We will pass a new law in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha to prevent and punish hate crimes such as mob-engineered stripping, burning and lynching. The law will contain provisions to compensate the victims and to hold accountable the police and district administration for proven negligence.

The Waqf Properties (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Bill, 2014 will be re-introduced and passed. Waqf properties will be restored to the legal trustees.

Congress promises to uphold the character of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia as minority educational institutions.

We promise that the National Commission for Women and the National Commission for Minorities will be given Constitutional status as in the cases of similar Commissions.

The INC also seeks to scrap the Niti Aayog, which it calls a `a noisy and incompetent intermeddler’ and establish a new Planning Commission. For those who may not know, Modi scrapped the historic planning commission set up by Nehru and created the Niti Aayog when the BJP came to power in 2014. It also talks of safeguarding the interests and independence of the media by amending and reviewing the Press Council of India Act. It lays a great emphasis on federalism and decentralizing power to the states, including giving full statehood to Puducherry and promising a statutory Council each for the Union Territories of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli. The INC also promises special privileges to the north-eastern states.

We will review the distribution of legislative fields in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution and build a consensus on transferring some legislative fields from List III (Concurrent List) to List II (State List).

We will reduce the size of Ministries and Departments in the Central Government in such areas where sufficient capacity has been built by the State Governments.

Congress promises to give primacy to State Governments in subjects such as school education, primary and secondary health care, child nutrition, drinking water, sanitation and distribution of
electricity, and ensure that the Central Government plays a supportive role to State Governments.

Congress promises to take forward the idea of the GST Council of Ministers and establish such Councils for Agriculture, Education and Healthcare.

We will implement the recommendations of the Fifteenth Finance Commission and will urge the States to implement the recommendations of their respective State Finance Commissions.

Congress, as the author of the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendments, will prevail upon the States to implement those provisions in letter and spirit and devolve funds, functions and functionaries upon the Panchayats and Municipalities.

We will work with State Governments to empower Panchayats and Municipalities through devolution of funds including a share of GST revenues. We will explore the possibility of direct central grants to Panchayats and Municipalities that was tried successfully in 1988-89 under the Government of Shri Rajiv Gandhi.

Congress promises to revive the Backward Regions Grant Fund and the Integrated Action Plan that were implemented under UPA and achieved significant results.

The States in the North East have a special place and there are special provisions in the Constitution.

For the North Eastern States, the Congress promises to:

  1. Restore Special Category status to the North Eastern States;
  2. Withdraw the infamous Citizenship Amendment Bill, which caused widespread resentment;
  3.  Enhance financial assistance to the Autonomous District Councils in acknowledgement of their importance to the North Eastern States.

Congress will give Special Category status to Andhra Pradesh as promised by Dr. Manmohan Singh on 20 February 2014 in the Rajya Sabha.

Congress promises full statehood to Puducherry.

Congress promises to amend the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991 to make it clear that the Lieutenant Governor shall act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers except in matters concerning the 3 reserved subjects.

Congress promises a statutory Council each for the Union Territories of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli to deliberate and to advise the Lieutenant Governor.

Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP has a major section on cultural heritage, which begins with the words

Since inception, the philosophy of the BJP is anchored in the civilisational ethos of India. As we build ‘New India’, we intend to actively invest in strengthening our cultural roots and preserving civilisational continuity. Far from seeing our cultural values as hurdles to progress, we see them as essential ingredients of our future.

Having begun its rise to power and fame with the famous (or infamous, as some would say) Ram Janmabhoomi movement, the BJP reiterates its support for the Ram Mandir

We reiterate our stand on Ram Mandir. We will explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution and all necessary efforts to facilitate the expeditious construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

They also speak about conserving Indian culture and traditions, including looking at linguistic heritage and traditions

We are committed to conserve and promote all culturally, religiously and spiritually significant heritage sites related to every faith in India and the ongoing PRASAD scheme will be expanded to achieve this goal.

We will constitute a National Task Force to study the status of all written and spoken languages and dialects in India. We will also work towards revival and promotion of vulnerable or extinct dialects and languages.

With a focussed effort on promotion of Sanskrit, we will ensure that the teaching of Sanskrit is expanded and popularised at the school level. We will also provide 100 Panini fellowships to researchers and scholars across India to promote research in Sanskrit.

An International Cultural Festival will be organised on a grand scale every year in 5 different states to showcase and promote the rich diversity of Indian culture and eos will be made for greater participation of Pravasi Bharatiya population and international community.

To increase accessibility and promote all culturally and historically signicant heritage sites and museums in India, we will launch a web-enabled virtual tour of all such locations through ‘Dharohar Dharshan-an integrated web portal’. Eliminating the geographical boundaries, the portal will provide real-time experience of Indian cultural heritage, accessible from any corner of the globe

The BJP reiterates it support for the cleaning of, and focus on, the Ganga (river) with the Namami Gange programme

We are committed to ensure a clean and uninterrupted ow of river Ganga from Gangotri to Ganga Sagar. We will ensure that the sewerage infrastructure to deal with 100% of the waste water from the Ganga towns is completed and is functioning effectively, and take steps to enhance the river flow.

The villages located on the banks of the river, which are already open defecation free, will be taken up under a special project to ensure complete sustainable management of solid and liquid waste

The BJP also comments on the contentious Sabarimala issue

We will undertake every effort to ensure that the subject of faith, tradition and worship rituals related to Sabarimala are presented in a comprehensive manner before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. We will endeavour to secure constitutional protection on issues related to faith and belief.

The BJP also seeks to promote Yoga globally

We will further continue our efforts to promote Yoga globally as the world celebrates 21st June as the International Yoga Day. We will promote Yoga as a vital method to achieve physical wellness and spiritual rejuvenation across the globe and will continue to work towards training of Yoga practitioners. We will undertake a rapid expansion of Yoga health hubs, Yoga tourism and research in Yoga.

Last but arguably one of the most important and contentious promises of the BJP, which it has had for quite a few elections is the Uniform Civil Code

Article 44 of the Constitution of India lists Uniform Civil Code as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy. BJP believes that there cannot be gender equality till such time India adopts a Uniform Civil Code, which protects the rights of all women, and the BJP reiterates its stand to draft a Uniform Civil Code, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonizing them with the modern times.

The BJP also talks on anti-corruption 

In order to curb corruption, the Modi government has taken many effective steps such as enacting the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act,2018, Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act,2018, and the Benami Transaction Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 2016. We have eliminated inertia in the government by ensuring decisive actions under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and will continue to make efforts to ensure more effective governance and transparent decision making.

And I think one cannot end the BJP poll pitch without highlighting its promises on Ayushman Bharat, its medicare policy and plan. It emphasizes its commitment to making healthcare accessible to all.

While providing annual health cover of Rs. 5 lakh to 10.74 crore poor families under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana under Ayushman Bharat, we also initiated a programme to set up 1,50,000 Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs) by 2022. Till date 17,150 HWCs have become functional. We will take up the programme of HWCs to next level. We will target provisioning of telemedicine and diagnostic laboratory facilities at these HWCs by 2022 to ensure quality primary medical care to the poor at his doorstep.

We will create an essential devices list and a separate pricing policy for medical devices to ensure their accessibility and affordability to masses.

The BJP also talks about developing healthcare infrastructure

With our initiatives, we have successfully reached the stage of ensuring one Medical College for every three Parliamentary Constituencies. We will take it forward and set up one Medical College or Post Graduate Medical College in every district, through public or private participation, by 2024. To start with 75 such Medical Institutes will be set up by 2022. This would ensure availability and accessibility of quality secondary and tertiary medical care to the citizens across the diverse landscape of our country.

In a mere span of 5 years, we have increased the number of MBBS seats by 18,000 and that of Postgraduate Medical seats by 12,000. We would fuher accelerate the pace of reforms in medical education sector so as to ensure transparency on one hand and improved doctor: population ratio on the other hand. With our eos we will double the number of MBBS and Specialist doctors in the country by 2024 as compared to the work done from 1947 till 2014. Further, we will also accelerate the reforms in para-medical education sector so as to increase the availability of nurses, pharmacists and other paramedical personnel.

We will also accelerate the reforms in paramedical education sector so as to increase the availability of nurses, pharmacists and other paramedical personnel.

In Conclusion

The largest democratic exercise comes with the largest dilemmas on whom to elect as the next Prime Minister of India. Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi. Both the parties have come out with well-made manifestos that cover a whole range of topics. In this analysis I have tried to be as impartial in my assessment as possible, with the miscellaneous section covering points that are there in both manifestos in some form or the other, but for which one party’s pitch is highlighted since it happens to be a central topic of discussion for that party. I believe that while the BJP has the vision and gumption to take strong positions on various points, the INC looks at inclusivity as a topic of importance. While the INC looks at loan waivers, the BJP looks at how to empower youth and people in general to go from becoming ‘job seekers’ to ‘job givers’. Both parties have their strengths and weaknesses, like any other party. I would like my readers to decide after going through the manifestos. It is a massive decision for the fate of the country, and as responsible citizens of the country, it is our duty to take an informed and well-thought-out position.

Every vote counts, every voice is important.

These are exciting times and I look forward to seeing another chapter being inked into the history of modern India on 23 May 2019 when a new government shall take office in India.

Jai Hind!