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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2967

The Manifesto Politics

By Chandrahasan - Syndicate Features

It is possible to accord some respectability to the party manifestos. It will require a three-way thrust to achieve that. The taxpaying public—the voter—the media and experts in various fields, especially finance and economics, will have to show a respect to the manifestos even if the political parties do not appear to be doing so.

There is one good reason to do so, which will become apparent in a moment. The BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful, L.K.Advani, fancies himself as the Indian equivalent of the pre-poll Barack Obama: an agent of ‘change’ and the country’s top debater who can chew any ‘pseudo-secularist’ opponent such as the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Advani may not want the champion’s tag without a fight with a rival. And that rival has to be no other than the prime minister, Manmohan Singh. Since the prime minister has refused to accept the challenge —some might say, refused to fall into Advani’s trap—the octogenarian BJP leader is sorely disappointed. Not the least because it is likely that he may not have another chance in future to challenge anyone for a debate that he expects to be nationally televised as in the case of US presidential poll.

If the PM has chickened out why should he or his party along with the rival parties not agree to be grilled on the contents of their poll manifestos? Unless Advani’s idea of a debate with the PM is an exchange of abuses, innuendoes, screeching half-truths and so on, the principal purpose of any debate in which he is joined by the PM would be to allow the countrymen and women to watch a clinical analysis of the polices and programmes of his and his rival’s parties.

The election manifestos are supposed to outline the core of the policies and programmes that parties promise to pursue if voted to power. The knowledge that the country no longer treats these manifestos as jokes would instil a seriousness among the parties while preparing these documents. It will give the nation a chance to guess with a fair degree of accuracy the way the country would move in the ensuing years even if they have only a little idea about the debating skills of the man at the helm.

It is because of absence of any debate over the manifestos that political parties resort to issuing tall, unrealistic promises that are not supposed to be implemented; or if they are, they are abandoned a little later, sometimes without so much as by your leave. It is easy to guess why they do so. Many, if not most, of these promises in the manifestos are made without explaining their viability.

It is understandable that every party wants to talk about free supply or heavy subsidies for rations for the poor. It is the economics of such a programme that remains hazy, not to mention the faults in the distribution system itself. At a time of global meltdown and recession the nation has to be assured that distribution of largesse will not add to the woes of the people. Or, is it the intention of a party to rob Peter to pay Paul?

Security has become one of the most serious problems before the country. It is not an issue that can be left to the lofty pages of an election manifesto. It needs discussion and the people need to be convinced that the alternative modes for enhanced security make sense and are eminently practicable.

Tax rebates and raising exemptions limits has and will always remain a popular demand. But promises about them would be taken seriously only if the country is told to what extent they will be possible in today’s economic and financial environment.

It is interesting that the original propagators of globalisation, the affluent West, are now trying to run away from globalisation and all that goes with it with the help of protectionist policies. How far can India go with ‘Swadehi’ economics in the era of globalisation?

Globalisation also impinges on foreign policies of various nations. Unless a country has chosen a deliberate policy of isolation—a handful have—the vast majority of the countries have to live in an atmosphere of coexistence and cooperation. It also involves some give-and-take. Can a party be really serious in talking about repudiating the international obligations taken by a government headed by a rival party?

The serious issue in the manifestos look trivial because the emphasis on implementing the promises begins to wane once the polls are over and a government has been installed. To remedy this deplorable situation it is necessary that the watchdogs, in public and the media, do not throw the manifestos out of focus no sooner they are released.

This, in turn, would ensure that the political parties refrain from making false promises, incorporating them in poll manifestos to lure the gullible voters, not with any intention of fulfilling them. The political parties will have to seriously monitor the poll promises and become accountable in case some, or a few of them, are given up.

The political parties will argue that they indeed do a stock taking of their poll promises, as contained in the manifestos. But as everyone knows that cannot be considered a reliable or even honest exercise. Only an outsider or a neutral body, from among the public and the media, can take up that job for it to be taken seriously. Once it becomes the norm, even the most reluctant, and also the most boastful, politicians would be left with little choice to duck national debates of the type Advani wants.

- Asian Tribune -

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