Hon’ble Supreme Court in July 2013 observed that freebies promised by various political parties in their election manifestos shake the roots of free and fair poll. The apex court further directed that the Election Commission should frame guidelines for regulating contents of election manifestos. In compliance of the directive, the Election Commission of India (ECI) issued guidelines under Article 324 of the Constitution. ECI consulted the political parties before guidelines were issued and its highlighted “In the interest of transparency, level playing field and credibility of promises, it is expected that manifestoes also reflect the rationale for the promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it. Trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled”.
The manifesto released by AAP unfolds the game plan of the Party at first glance. It claims that the Party has arisen from “the struggle of Ramlila Maidan and Jantar Manter”. It plans to “re-write the politics of this country”. Alas! the Anna agitation at Ramlila Maidan which is being claimed as the foundation was given up when Kejriwal decided to enter the elective politics. Anna had not approved the goal of seeking power. His vision is to work as a watchdog for enforcing high morals and curbing the evils of the political system. The party’s claim to re-write the politics of the country is also questionable. A constitutional authority resorting to dharna in front of Rail Bhawan for condoning the misdeeds of Delhi Law Minister would certainly not have the credentials for re-writing the politics, but the flavor is more of anarchy than establishment of the democratic, constitutional and law abiding framework. The litmus test of the manifesto is of the competitive populism. The Party which has not yet gained the recognition of a regional or national party is aspiring to form a national government without any commitment to accountability. It promises “Swaraj” and describes the Lokpal bill passed by the Parliament as “Toothless”. If the provisions are analysed in depth, the Act as passed by the Parliament, if implemented with honest intent, can be a very powerful instrument to curb corruption. AAP manifesto promises that “Any public official found guilty of corruption would be sentenced to prison” and his property will be confiscated. Such a draconian provision has to be tempered with the rule of law. It must also discriminate between the corruption of an ordinary postman with the corruption of public authorities plundering state assets. The manifesto promises a grievance redressal mechanism of citizens charter. It is oblivious of the fact that 19 States have already passed relevant Acts for the delivery of time bound services. The learning from the state Act has been totally ignored while promising the citizens charter.
The dream for “Swaraj” has been promised to the citizens in a very light and half-hearted manner. There is a mention for devolution of “untied” funds to gram sabha and mohalla sabha. It ignores the fact that there is already Finance Commission at the Central level and at the State level which determines the transfer of funds. The challenge is to integrate the local projects with the district development plan as a durable assets. Unplanned expenditure would only encourage corruption and favouritism. The nation is fully conversant with the misuse of local developments funds given to parliamentarians and state legislators. The ‘Swaraj’ of Kejriwal even envisages mandatory consultation of gram sabhas before legislating on specified subjects. Legislation is a complicated exercise. It is already time consuming and lengthy in processing. Given the specified tenure of Assembly and Parliament, it would bring the legislative task to a halt if implemented in the manner promised in the manifesto. Another aspect of Swaraj is setting up fast track courts at all levels of judiciary. Does it mean that there would be two sets of judicial process adjudicating on different crimes? While fast track court for specific crimes at a trial stage may be justified, it would be a negation of judicial process if such courts are encouraged at all levels of judiciary.
The manifesto of AAP also promises far reaching measures requiring constitutional amendment. The legislation to rein in political parties, proportional representation for elective success, provision of right to “reject” and right to “recall” and reduction in the age for elective positions from 25 to 21 years would require deeper examination and constitutional amendment. It only establishes that the Party had decided to promise everything to all citizens without any sense of accountability.
The manifesto has also promised minimum support prices which would be 50% more than the real input cost. Such MSPs would be announced for 25 crops with an element of direct procurement and timely market intervention. Evidently, it has overlooked the impact on cropping pattern, market surplus, warehousing and strain on government exchequer while making the promise. There are also issues of commitment given in World Trade Organisation where India has been demanding reduction in agricultural subsidy by the developed countries. Once again, it reflects a gross ignorance and an attempt to accomplish in a hurry. Another important missing link is the labour laws. While the contractualization of jobs has been banned in the manifesto, there is no consideration given to the impact on employment generation when rigid labour laws are enforced. It also affects the investment climate and the competitiveness of Indian products.
The commitment on defence and foreign policy at best is peripheral. The dream promised for Kashmir appears different than what is available to other States. How do we then declare Kashmir as “an integral part of India?’ Any decentralization and devolution of power has to be uniformly implemented within the overall framework of federal system. In the area of defence, the issues of technological modernization, self-dependency and self-sufficiency have been given a short-shift. While no one would have any trouble with the indigenous production, there is always a challenge to obtain the most advanced technology in any strategy for national security.
It is evident that the Party has released manifesto in a great hurry. While promising a national election manifesto, it has only dealt with the state of Delhi. In their vision for security and non-discrimination for Muslims, the manifesto reads “we are committed to improving the quality of education in government schools across Delhi”. Certainly, the challenge of non-discrimination for Muslims cannot be dealt by a narrow vision of educational facilities in Delhi alone. The manifesto lacks credibility, transparency and offers nothing in the name of rationale for the promises and the ways and means of financial requirement to deliver the dream. Perhaps, the Party was aware of the fact that it may not have a role in governance in May 2014.
By (N. Misra is ex-Chairman, TRAI and Director, Public Interest Foundation
(This article was published in Dainik Bhaskar on July, 2013)