election manifesto

BJP and Congress – spot the difference!

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Going by the election manifestos, it is getting increasingly difficult to spot the major policy differences between the mainstream parties of the country. Barring the left, and regional parties, most of national parties seem to be having the same stand on major political issues. One would have to really do some work to find the core differences between the manifestos of Congress, BJP and even AAP.

BJP’s manifesto, released today, is interesting in many ways. First, it shows that the thought process of the party leadership is changing very fast. And also that it is willing to be more accommodative and more flexible in stand on issues that evoke strong passion across the nation.

The gradual mellowing of BJP is an interesting outcome of Indian political process. And this mellowing is quite evident in the BJP’s election manifesto released yesterday, on the day of first phase polling.

The conscious decision to look and sound a different BJP is evident on all pages of the manifesto. The BJP is all set to be born in a new avtar, with a face of soft, pragmatic and congenial Hindutva-committed party. It seems the party is now ready to change its style as well as content under the leadership of Narendra Modi.

A cursory look at the manifesto shows that the party is taking pains to not appear as a party wedded to hardcore Hindutva. Instead it wants to be seen as a progressive political party that is ready to compromise, and if possible delay some of the points of its core philosophy.

There is nothing wrong with an attempt to mellow down one’s stance on certain issues. It only shows that the party is reshaping its ideology in tune with the mood of the nation. However, the problem is that there is very little now that differentiates BJP from its main rival Indian National Congress. In fact, having read the manifesto, it would be difficult for anyone to point out the five biggest differences between the ideologies of Congress and BJP, apart from the well-known and well-debated issues of secularism, Ram Mandir, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code.

And in a sense it is good that the differences between the approaches of two main national parties on polemical issues are fast converging. But, even on issues relating to economic development and governance, the manifestos of Congress and BJP look and sound similar. For us ordinary people, both the parties are speaking the same language and there is very little to distinguish them from each other.

BJP manifesto focuses on development issues and talks of the need to expedite growth. It also promises to provide corruption-free governance. And it does not harp on its Hindutva issues too much. Rather ignores them to a great extent. The manifesto has Modi’s impact clearly written over it. You can judge it by the tone and tenor of its language.

The manifesto does not talk too much about contentious issues like reservation and only mentions that it would take the nation away from identity politics and tokenism. The party, it seems, is also hesitant in raking up issues like uniform civil code. While, the manifesto does mention uniform civil code, it says that it is an issue of gender equality and is not something that concerns religion. The mellowing of party’s stand on these issues is quite clear from the manifesto as is clear from speeches made by Narendra Modi in his election rallies.

It is also clear that this mellowing in the party’s stand was not unanimous and there must have been some differences at the top that caused the delay in the release of the document. However, there is nothing wrong in such differences and attrition between two schools of thoughts even within a party. It only underlines the maturing of political process in our country, if a mainstream party has dichotomy of views on important issues.

The problem is that in our country election manifestos are seldom taken seriously. Most of the parties ignore their manifestos and promises once the elections are over. And the good thing is that number of contentious issues is getting smaller and smaller with time, while the number of issues that most parties agree upon is growing with time. So, you will find that almost all parties talk of the need to contain corruption, talk of commitment to women’s emancipation, talk of social equity, talk of secularism and talk of allowing foreign investment in at least some areas. After six decades of democracy, this is not a mean task. In all this, Indian democracy is emerging as the biggest winner. And that is a big consolation.

Vimal Agrawal

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