Broken promises

The Indian National Congress moved out in a bus to Surajkund to introspect on many issues of national concern. The party announced that it would also audit the promises it made in its manifesto for 2009 general elections. Sections in the media, ever ready to acclaim the Congress’ every move, lauded each step — the bus ride symbolising its austerity, brave exhortions as battle readiness and many such.
From media reports, however, it is unclear if the Congress ruminated on the most important section of its manifesto. That section which political pundits would refer to as the “operative part” of their 2009 manifesto is “The Work Programme: 2009-2014”. It begins with: “...the Indian National Congress makes the following solemn promises to the people of our country.” There are 29 such promises, most of which yet remain unfulfilled. The promises relate to important issues and are worth reviewing. But did the Congress introspect on these?
“We will ensure energy security,” said the Congress, and while doing so, “...will implement a scheme to supply energy to poor families at affordable prices”. Surely, the Congress showed that it did not care about energy security of the nation by allocating coal blocks to gutka manufacturers and real estate brokers. Even worse, they have cheated the poor by breaking their promise. Not only did they fail to provide energy to the poor at affordable prices, they in fact restricted access by limiting the number of LPG cylinders. Worse than an unkept promise!
“We will introduce the goods and services tax from April 1, 2010,” promised the Congress. The party repeatedly, albeit without substance, blamed the BJP for its failure to show progress on the GST. The issue of the uncleared Central Sales Tax (CST) arrears due to the states was consistently raised by the BJP and the finance minister is talking about it in a reconciliatory tone at the end of 2012. The time required, if any, for a constitutional amendment are still issues to be sorted out and we are quite close to April 1, 2013.
“We will maintain the path of high growth with fiscal prudence and low inflation,” promised the Congress. On these counts, analysts and economists have repeatedly held the government responsible for its failures. By early November, it was agreed that the growth rate this fiscal would reach 5.5 per cent — “the slowest pace in a decade”, claimed a financial daily. Referring to rating agencies such as Standard & Poor’s and Filch, the paper said that higher spending and rising subsidies could push the fiscal deficit to six per cent of the GDP. Around the same time the Prime Minister was reported to have said, “...our growth has decelerated, our exports have fallen and our fiscal deficits are expanding. Of particular concern is the fiscal deficit, which is too high and acts as a deterrent for domestic and foreign investment.”
“We will expand schemes for improving the wellbeing of farmers and their families,” said the Congress. Unfortunately, suicides of farmers continue, particularly in Congress-ruled Maharashtra. The issue of the plight of the farmers in Andhra Pradesh who had forced on themselves a crop holiday due to the indifference of the government was raised by the BJP in Parliament. The several doable suggestions in the Swaminathan Committee report are all but forgotten.
The Congress also promised that “all controls on the free movement of farm commodities and processing of agricultural products and all regulations that depress incomes of farmers will be systematically eliminated.” The flip-flops in export policy adversely affected cotton farmers. The timing of the ban on cotton exports raised suspicions if this government was thinking at all; for us to expect that the Congress remembered its manifesto promise would be futile.
The manifesto also promised, “As a matter of priority, the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007, that could not be passed because of the obstructionist tactics of the BJP, will be taken up for passage in the 15th Lok Sabha. The Land Acquisition Act, 1894, will also be amended to ensure that the interests of land owners are more than adequately protected.” Did the Congress introspect at Surajkund if the delay is because of the division within the Congress or because of dilly-dallying alliance partners?
“The Indian National Congress pledges to enact a right to food law that guarantees access to sufficient food for all people, particularly the most vulnerable sections of society.” The rotting grains in the FCI godowns in various parts of the country was a spectacle, which the nation watched with shame. It moved the Supreme Court of India to order for free distribution of grains to the deserving poor. Instead of understanding the spirit which guided this outpouring of the apex court, the government argued on how free distribution technically may be not feasible.
Another pledge in the Congress’ 2009 election manifesto was that “every family living below the poverty line either in rural or urban areas will be entitled, by law, to 25 kgs of rice or wheat per month at `3 per kg.” At Surajkund, did the Congress decide whether an individual earning `28 in urban or `22 in rural areas was above the poverty line? Surely, that’s the determinant for entitlement.
“We will make elected panchayat institutions financially strong,” promised the Congress Party. In Jammu and Kashmir where the National Conference and the Congress are in alliance and are governing the state, the physical safety of the sarpanches itself is threatened by terrorists. And on that there is only silence from the ruling alliance. The chief minister spoke on how it may be impossible to provide security to all sarpanches. The Congress and its pledge can wait for another day, maybe?
“We will ensure the highest level of defence preparedness and also take further steps for the welfare of the defence forces and their families” — a promise about which the less said the better. The country saw how the discourse in the public domain saw several experts voice their concern on defence preparedness, including Army Chief Gen. Bikram Singh. To be less prepared is a worry in itself, but to discuss it in open had implications for national security.
The Congress president reportedly observed that the party and the government are not on the same page. The government and the party are probably not on the same page as the people of India.

The writer is spokesperson of the BJP. The views expressed in this column are her own.

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