New Delhi: True to its name, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), in its election manifesto released on Thursday, focused on issues dear to the aam aadmi: health, education, and every Indian’s bugbear—corruption.

“You all know how the Aam Aadmi Party was formed. It emerged from one of the biggest anti-corruption movements in the country...no other political party is even in a position to talk about corruption," Arvind Kejriwal, national convenor of the AAP, said while releasing the manifesto.

Kejriwal, who is contesting against Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi, said the party’s top four priorities would be to bring its version of the Jan Lokpal Bill (which includes provisions for a citizens’ charter and whistleblowers’ protection), the Swaraj Bill for decentralization of power, simplification of government procedures, and the use of information technology to reduce corruption in government functioning.

The party had promised to implement all the above measures in its manifesto during the run-up to the Delhi assembly election in December. It had formed a minority government after the election but stayed in power for a mere 49 days before resigning, after its efforts to table the anti-corruption Jan Lokpal Bill in the assembly were thwarted.

“It is natural for them to talk about anti-corruption measures in (their) national manifesto. Corruption is the main plank for them and they will have to reinforce the idea that they are strongly against corruption in public office," said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a political analyst and member of the faculty at the New Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

In contrast, the Congress’s manifesto has promised that the party will continue with its entitlements (or welfare sops) regime, even as it tries to spur economic growth. The BJP is yet to unveil its manifesto. It is now expected on 7 April, which will also see the first phase of polling in the elections that will be held in nine phases till 12 May. The results are to be announced on 16 May.

“Aam Aadmi Party is contesting elections not merely to form the government but to fundamentally transform the system of governance. We believe that decision-making power resides with the people and should be exercised directly by them," the manifesto said, highlighting the need to legislate the Swaraj Bill that seeks to give funds to local administrative bodies such as gram sabhas and mohalla sabhas, that can be used at their discretion.

Even while focusing on one hot-button issue of this year’s elections, jobs—the manifesto has a section on “creating decent jobs and gainful employment for our youth"—the AAP stressed its commitment to fighting corruption. “Focus on job creation by promoting honest enterprise, this would be done by reducing corruption and streamlining the system of excessive regulations and licences," it said.

Interestingly, the party’s manifesto also sees the AAP trying to usurp positions taken by its rivals, the Congress and the BJP, in terms of entitlements and business friendliness, respectively.

The manifesto also suggests integrating economic and environmental policies and creating world-class infrastructure with the participation of the private sector. It also adds “security, dignity and personal potential" to the age-old rhetoric of roti, kapda, makaan (food, clothing and housing).

With AAP being criticized as being anti-business for attacking corporate entities, the party’s manifesto seeks to make its stand clear: “AAP believes that government should not be in the business of running businesses. Active participation of private sector is required for enterprises to thrive and create jobs."

The manifesto adds that AAP is “in-principle" not against foreign direct investment (FDI) but against FDI in retail. “Our analysis shows that FDI in retail leads to large-scale unemployment. We are against FDI in retail," Kejriwal said.

The manifesto also promises a minimum support price (price at which government buys agricultural produce) that is 50% more than the cost of production, and has also promised to extend the concept of such minimum support prices to cash crops such as pulses, millets and oilseeds. That, access to credit and insurance, and the development of agro-processing industries and cold-chain infrastructure should prevent farmer suicides, the manifesto argues.

Anecdotally, a significant portion of the appeal of the AAP has been to young people, sometimes college students. In a promise that should endear itself to this constituency, the party’s manifesto says it will lower the minimum age for candidates in elections from 25 to 21.

Focusing on minorities in a separate section, AAP’s manifesto promises to end police harassment of Muslims. The party has also supported reservation, but with the caveat that it should be extended to those who need it the most and those “who have already availed the benefits should be placed at the end of the queue". AAP has announced candidates for 426 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha till now.

The BJP was dismissive of AAP’s manifesto. “Most of the political parties are part of some movement or the other but the Aam Aadmi Party is an event-based political group and its manifesto release is one such event," said Bhupender Yadav, a BJP Rajya Sabha member. “The party is only event-based and indulges in hypocrisy."

On the delay in the release of the BJP’s manifesto, Yadav said senior party leader Murli Manohar Joshi was still working on the document. Three Congress spokespersons could not be reached for a comment on AAP’s charter.

Gyan Varma contributed to this story.

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