New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) finally ended the suspense and released its election manifesto on Monday with the central promise of development for all. The 52-page document, which proffers something for everybody, signals a political shift of the BJP to the centre—consistent with its strategy to make itself politically more acceptable.

As a result, apart from traditional issues such as protecting the cow (“and its progeny"), building of the promised temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya and annulling the special status accorded to Kashmir (all mentioned almost cursorily), its manifesto takes a leaf out of those of its rivals, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and includes the broader message of inclusion, to which it devotes an entire section. In addition, the statement of intent, is, as was widely expected of the BJP, largely pro-reform and pro-business. It focuses on hot-button issues such as inflation, fiscal prudence and much-needed judicial reform.

Interestingly, the manifesto categorically opposes foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, effectively setting the stage for a rollback of this policy, if indeed the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is, as opinion polls forecast, voted to power.

It also promises to overhaul centre-state relations by empowering the National Development Council—the apex body of the states and the centre—and to push for speedy implementation of the single goods and services tax.

“Good governance and development (are) the two issues on which we are fighting these elections," Narendra Modi, the party’s prime ministerial candidate, said during the release of the manifesto at the party headquarters in New Delhi. “The manifesto reflects the wishes and aspirations of the people. This is neither an election formality nor is it just a document; it is our goal and commitment."

Throughout the campaign, Modi has recalibrated the party’s message to address critics’ fears about the BJP’s approach to minorities, especially in the context of the 2002 riots in Gujarat that led to the death of around 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

Previously the party’s strategy was to sidestep its critics by dubbing them “pseudo-secularists" for focusing only on minorities. In the 2014 campaign, Modi has been careful to avoid confrontation and instead focused on the idea of ‘India First’.

“‘India First’ simply means nurturing and protecting all the elements, which India is made of. It does not exclude anyone or anything—it only includes everything and everyone, which India is made of. It is complete India; without exclusion, without exception. It also means that whatever is in the interest of India will be in the interest of all the elements that India is made up of, including its citizens," the manifesto said.

In a separate section titled “Widen the platform", the manifesto promises measures targeted at the poor and marginalized, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes, minorities and the neo-middle class. The party has promised to identify India’s 100 most-backward districts and bring them at par with others, training the urban poor and ensuring basic level of infrastructure, shelter, electricity, water and toilets to all.

It has introduced the idea of ‘rurban’ to bring urban amenities to rural areas while retaining the soul of villages and building 100 new cities. For women, it has promised a national campaign to save the girl child and educate her, industrial training centres for women, creation of an acid attack welfare fund, and an all-women mobile bank.

The BJP, which was in power when India conducted a series of nuclear tests in 1998, said that its government would revise and update the country’s nuclear doctrine to “make it relevant to challenges of current times" even as it remains silent on its stand on “no first use" policy.

According to former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, the promise to review the ‘no first use’ policy—announced in 1998 when India carried out five atomic tests—seems to be influenced by the increasing nuclear threat from Pakistan.

Pointing out that the manifesto has “a very distinctive Modi imprint", Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst, said: “This Modi face is coming strong on the economic model... he is also putting forth a strong economic nationalism, evident from the party’s slogan Ek Bharat Shreshta Bharat (One India, best India)... the manifesto has a clear shift in stance where it is not talking about religious minorities specifically, instead it is talking about those who are left behind and how the state needs to support them."

In a bid to allay fears, Modi said, “When people give the responsibility I will never fall short in fulfilling my duty, I will never do anything for myself and I will never do anything with ill intent."

The tone in the BJP’s manifesto prompted the ruling Congress, perceived as centrist in its agenda, to say that the opposition party had imitated it. “In originality, in novelty, in value addition, in substance, it is a damp squib....this is nothing but a cut-and-paste job of the Congress manifesto; it seems it is the same manifesto, only the name has changed," Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress spokesperson, said.

The manifesto caveated its pro-FDI stance by saying that it would allow this in all wealth-and job-creating sectors.

“Barring the multi-brand retail sector, FDI will be allowed in sectors wherever needed for job and asset creation," said the party.

Significantly, it has promised to continue the revolving door policy in government that will allow entry of non-career government personnel from “academia, industry and society". The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had inducted technocrats such as S. Ramadorai and Nandan Nilekani.

The BJP dubbed the ruling UPA’s 10 years at the helm as the “decade of decay".

Accusing the Congress of unleashing “tax terrorism" and uncertainty, the manifesto said the party would, if voted to power, reform the tax system to attract investors, deliver water to every village, develop a coastal area network and formulate a new national health policy.

The party also promised a comprehensive National Energy Policy.

India is the world’s fourth-largest energy consuming nation and imports 80% of its crude oil and 18% of its gas. BJP’s manifesto also talked about forming national policies on resources such as coal, minerals and spectrum and roping in state governments for tapping such resources.

The AAP said the manifesto sought to mask the BJP’s true agenda, which it claimed was socially divisive.

“The most worrying part of BJP’s election manifesto—in line with the recent speeches of their party leaders—is the reiteration of their communal agenda. With the promise of rebuilding the Ram mandir and abrogation of Article 370 in their manifesto, the BJP has shown that the agenda of ‘development’ was a short-term farce and that communal and divisive policies are their true agenda," the party said in a press statement.

liz.m@livemint.com

Elizabeth Roche, Utpal Bhaskar, Neha Sethi, Asit Ranjan Misra and Nikita Mehta in New Delhi and Anirban Sen in Bangalore contributed to this story.

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