THE day before campaigning ended for the first phase of the 2019 elections, the BJP released its Manifesto. Five years ago the BJP Manifesto created a lot of buzz with promises of development (sabka saath, sabka vikas), repatriation of black money and advent of ‘achchhe din’, but this time round, the Manifesto appears to be only a statement of power, the arrogance of power to be precise. Five years ago the BJP Manifesto had photographs of a full team of eleven leaders on its cover, now the whole thing is only about one man, around whom the BJP is trying to promote an unprecedented personality cult and hero worship. The entire RSS agenda has been incorporated in the 2019 Manifesto; trademark key points of the Sangh like construction of Ram Mandir, scrapping of Article 370 and enforcement of Uniform Civil Code which the BJP used to shelve during the Vajpayee years now occupy the pride of place in the BJP Manifesto. If there is anything still hidden it is an open declaration of the long-standing RSS goal of reshaping India as a Hindu Rashtra and revising India’s secular democratic Constitution to enforce Manusmriti as India’s dominant social charter.
The BJP does not think that the Manifesto should first of all give an account of the Modi government’s performance over the last five years. It just lists a series of ‘achievements’ – from Demonetisation and GST to ‘surgical strike’ and ‘air strike', everything is included in that list without giving any assessment of the impact of those steps. There is no reference to its much talked about promises made in 2014. There is absolutely no attempt to acknowledge or address the burning demands of farmers like abolition of debt and fulfilment of the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of remunerative crop prices, the working class demand for fixing monthly minimum wages at Rs 18,000, students’ demand for increased budgetary allocation for education or young India’s demand for immediate filling of nearly three million vacancies in government jobs. The section on ‘women empowerment’ has received the most cavalier treatment, so much so that the BJP Manifesto has actually promised laws ‘to commit crimes against women’.
India’s position has been slipping alarmingly on the Global Hunger Index. The Manifesto is simply not bothered about the issues of hunger, food security and right to food. The unemployment rate has reached its highest point in five decades. The BJP is not bothered, the Manifesto brazenly claims to have created 17 crore entrepreneurs through paltry MUDRA yojana loans of a few thousand rupees. Inequality has reached Himalayan heights in India with the richest 9 persons accounting for as much wealth as the bottom half of Indian population. The BJP does not care. Rather, the Manifesto goes on to propose virtual privatisation of the railways – in other words, India’s infrastructure network of roads, ports, railways, airports and airlines will all come under increasing private control in the coming days. The banks have already been robbed extensively by the big corporates, the BJP now talks about further ‘cleaning up of the banking system’, a euphemism for increasing private control over India’s banking sector. The Manifesto talks about 75 milestones for the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence, without any indication of how these goals could possibly be achieved in the context of such unbridled state-supported corporate aggression.
Clearly, these milestones are just a clever way of shifting the goalposts and avoiding any accountability for the Modi government’s disastrous performance on issues of economic delivery, governance and most crucially the complete breakdown of the system of institutional checks and balances and rule of law. The Manifesto appears to focus on national security, trying to make it the USP of the BJP. But our experience of the last five years clearly tells us that the Modi government has only managed to weaken and endanger our national security. The government has been busy promoting communal divisions and hate and emboldening lynch mobs to target Dalits, Muslims and dissenting voices within the country. The BJP brands them as ‘internal enemies’ and bases its national security strategy on a relentless internal war against them. The Manifesto has also reiterated BJP's dangerous game plan of amending the Citizenship Act, which the party had to shelve in the face of massive opposition in the North-Eastern states.
While vitiating the internal environment of the country and filling the air with hate and communal and casteist venom, the BJP is also guilty of routinely neglecting the genuine demands of security forces about their pitiable conditions of work. Pulwama would not have happened if the government had heeded the warnings received from intelligence agencies or the request from the CRPF top brass to airlift the jawans from Jammu to Srinagar. The desperation to use the sacrifice of the security forces for the purpose of votes, even going to the extent of describing the Indian Army as Modi’s Army, can only weaken the national security environment and the institutional integrity of the armed forces. The BJP Manifesto also virtually treats Kashmir as an enemy territory and the Kashmiri people as an enemy population thereby further alienating the common people of Kashmir as well as the BJP’s former allies with whom it has shared power till recently. The blocking of Kashmir’s highways for civilian traffic has only added insult to injury.
A day before the BJP presented its Manifesto, senior minister of Modi’s cabinet Arun Jaitley said that the choice before the country in 2019 was between Modi and chaos. The five years of Modi rule have been the most chaotic in our living memory. From completely irrational measures like demonetisation and the ill-conceived and hastily implemented GST to the epidemic of mob lynchings and encounter killings, the despotic dispensation of Narendra Modi will only be remembered as a nightmarish reign of unmitigated disaster. Cruelty and callousness towards the people and camaraderie and complicity with his crony corporate friends and perpetrators of crimes have been the hallmarks of the Modi regime. When we are asked to choose between Modi and chaos, we can only take it as a veiled threat that if Modi does not get a second term, the Sangh brigade will go berserk and unleash even more devastating chaos. Be that as it may, five years of Modi-Shah rule have been enough of an eye-opener for the people. The cocktail of unbridled corporate aggression and communal hate and violence and the dictatorial reign of lies and bigotry have pushed the country to the brink of unprecedented social, economic and political disaster. The 2019 elections can only be about rescuing India from this disastrous trap and rebuilding India’s democracy on a firmer footing.