New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday unveiled the Congress manifesto for Lok Sabha Elections 2019, with a focus on delivering jobs, helping farmers and combating poverty—an overarching social justice platform that Gandhi said had been gleaned from conversations with ordinary people. The renewed welfare pitch by the party is aimed at addressing the problems being faced by two key social groups—the poor and farmers.
With this, India’s largest opposition party aims to reposition unemployment and rural distress as its key poll issue against the Narendra Modi government. The Congress manifesto is a policy framework stitched around the narrative of creating “wealth and welfare". Its release comes nine days before the first phase of elections on 11 April.
Reiterating its pledge to roll out a countrywide farm loan waiver and the NYAY scheme for minimum income guarantee, the Congress manifesto also promises a separate “Kisan Budget" for farmers, treating farm debt as a civil rather than criminal liability and a piece of land for every rural homeless or landless household if the Congress is voted to power.
“We are releasing this manifesto and it is a massive step for the Congress. One year ago when we began the process, I gave only two instructions—I said this is not to be made in a closed room and that it should reflect the views of people. Also, this should not have anything that is a lie," Gandhi said while releasing the manifesto at an event organized at the party’s national headquarters.
The 55-page manifesto titled “Congress will deliver" is broadly divided into six sections—employment, economy, internal security, good governance, economically deprived sections and a life of dignity for all. Top leaders of the party including former prime minister Manmohan Singh and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi were present at the release.
On the economy, one of the key manifesto promises is to contain fiscal deficit at under 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020-21. “Wealth creation and the welfare of our people are our two principal goals," the Congress manifesto said.
Congress will make changes to the goods and services tax (GST), with the manifesto proposing “GST 2.0" that will introduce a “single, moderate, standard rate of tax". Apart from promising the right to universal healthcare and expanding the scope of the right to education till Class XII, the manifesto makes an ambitious pledge to allocate 6% of GDP to education and increasing the healthcare expenditure to 3%—both by 2023-24.
“It would be interesting to see if the GDP targets on education and health are achievable," said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst. “The bigger problem really is not of affordability, but of targeting—which is: Can the party ensure that beneficiary schemes are being disbursed to the right people?"
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacked the Congress’ governance record. “Governance goes into reverse gear when the Congress and its allies are in power. Terrorism, prices, violence, corruption, black money rise when Congress is in power; the country’s prosperity, its credibility, the morale of the armed forces, respect for honesty decline," Modi said at an election rally at Jamui in Bihar.
Apart from the focus on rural distress and unemployment, the party made a slew of other promises, including passing the women’s reservation bill, rewarding private businesses for job creation, getting more women to work, a comprehensive policy on urbanization and recognizing air pollution as an emergency.