We read the Congress manifesto for you. And this is what it promises.
Listen to part two of the episode here
"We have delivered before, we will do it again," is the refrain seen throughout the Congress manifesto released at the party headquarters on Akbar Road, New Delhi, on the 2nd of April. Countering the "Modi Hai toh Mumkin Hai" of the BJP, the Congress has come up with "Hum Nibhaayenge."
In the foreword to the manifesto, party president Rahul Gandhi took aim at prime minister Modi, and his perceived autocratic ways: "It is not the "mann ki baat" of one individual but the collective voice of lakhs of people." Throughout the manifesto and during the press briefing after, Rahul Gandhi questioned many times over the narrative of Modi being a doer. The Congress's flagship scheme of NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana), which it hopes will be a gamechanger in the election, has come under attack from the BJP about whether or not it is "mumkin" to execute. Addressing that, Gandhi said, "It might be impossible for BJP. They said the same thing about MNREGA but it helped people of the country. It is impossible for BJP but it is possible for Congress and we will do it."
According to the BJP, Nehru is the source of all of India's ills. Perhaps therefore, the Congress, tongue firmly in cheek, has decided to call the manifesto document "India's new tryst with destiny," recalling Nehru's famous speech. Calling the manifesto a "marriage of wealth and welfare," the Congress issued a blistering attack on PM Modi, saying him and his party have sown the seed of divisiveness in the country, creating a climate of "fear, intimidation, and hatred." In fairly dramatic fashion, Gandhi countered the media present at the gathering saying, "You all drill me with questions but are afraid of taking on Modiji. He has never ever addressed a press conference so far, why don't you ask him why is he so afraid of talking to the media." He also said he was ready for an open debate with Narendra Modi on national security.
The manifesto quotes Gandhi as saying, "I've never broken a promise that I've made." He continued, “I had also said that whatever is going to be in this manifesto has to be truthful, I do not want a single thing in this manifesto that is a lie because we have been hearing a large number of lies spoken every day by our Prime Minister. There are no lies in this manifesto as we have had enough lies in the past five years."
Rajeev Gowda, the convener of the manifesto committee said, the party was given a simple mission statement by Rahul Gandhi - "to go out and listen to the voices of the people of India." The manifesto therefore is a result of 121 consultations with the public, 53 consultations with experts such as farmers, entrepreneurs, economists, teachers, women's groups, doctors, lawyers, etc, conducted in 60 locations across 24 states and 3 union territories, and with NRI representatives from 12 countries. The Congress Manifesto Committee - led by former finance minister P Chidambaram - includes former state finance minister of Punjab Manpreet Badal, Minister of Parliament from Silchar, Assam, Sushmita Dev, All India Congress Committee's research division head Rajeev Gowda, former chief minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda, former union ministers Jairam Ramesh and Salman Khurshid, among others.
The manifesto, a "new narrative," attempts to counter the BJP's policies and measures over the past five years every step of the way, and presents the voter with a stark choice: "Will India be a free and democratic country and will the Indian people be free from fear, free to live and work and pray and eat and love and marry according to their wishes, free from poverty and free to pursue their ambitions? Or will India be governed by a pernicious ideology that will trample upon people's rights, institutions, conventions, and the healthy differences that are the essence of a multi cultural country?" Freedom or fear; harmony or hatred; inclusion or exclusion; results or jumlas? These are the choices the Congress says the electorate has.
The manifesto promises that the Congress will restore India's faith in our institutions and the Constitution. In a punch-counterpunch narrative, the manifesto claims that the party was responsible for IITs, IIMs, AIIMSs and the Green Revolution, the White Revolution, and the IT Revolution while the BJP has been responsible for farm prices at a 10 year low, credit growth at a 20 year low and unemployment at a 45 year high. Claiming that the BJP programmes of Digital India, Startup India, and Make in India have all been colossal failures, the manifesto declares that "an aspirational India has become a desperate India."
In keeping with the theme, the manifesto reveal was preceded by an audio-visual presentation, kicked off by Congress communication in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala. In the video, Journalist P Sainath, environmentalist Sunita Narain, Lt Gen Deependra Singh Hooda and murdered journalist Gauri Lankesh's sister, filmmaker Kavita Lankesh, addressed the need for a "newer order."According to the party, the manifesto prioritises employment, poverty, farmers' woes, women and an inclusive society above all else. The manifesto document is divided into six categories:
- KAAM - employment and growth
- DAAM - an economy that works for all
- SHAAN - pride in our hard and soft power
- SUSHAASAN - good governance through independent and accountable institutions
- SWABHIMAAN - self-esteem for the deprived
- SAMMAN - a life of dignity for all
There are five major themes that run through what Gandhi calls a "living manifesto." Why living? Because the party claims, "We will present a report to the people of India, every year, on the status of implementation of our manifesto. We will also set up an independent social audit group, which will make its own assessment of how and to what extent we have fulfilled our promises."
Let's go through the major themes and the key takeaways from the party manifesto on this edition of Decoding 2019 - the Congress manifesto. Kya woh nibhaa paayenge? Let's get into it. My name is Rakesh Sharma, and you are listening to Moneycontrol.
FIVE MAJOR THEMESThe manifesto tackles five major themes going into the elections:
- NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana, a minimum income plan): India’s poorest will receive money directly in their bank account to ensure they have a minimum monthly income of Rs 12,000.
- Jobs: The Congress promises to fill 22 lakh job vacancies within the government. The party promises "regulatory forbearance" for Micro and Small Enterprises, meaning they will be exempt from all applicable laws and regulations (other than the Minimum Wages Act and tax laws) for a period of 3 years from 1 April 2019 or, in the case of new businesses, the date of commencement of business. This, the party hopes, will mean freedom from what they call "Inspector Raj." It also wants to do away with angel tax. (something that seems to already be in the works by the current government) The party also wants to raise guaranteed days of employment under MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarentee Act) up to 150 days.
- Farmer Welfare: Karz maafi to karz mukti and a separate kisan budget are among the chief reforms aimed at the farming sector. If farmers default on loans, the party promises that under its regime, the default will be considered a civil offense and not a criminal offence. Congress also promised to extend farm loan waiver to all states, in keeping with its promise in the states that had assembly elections last year.
- Education: The party wants to increase government expenditure on education to 6 percent of GDP by financial year 2023-24.
- Health: The Congress wants to double government expenditure on healthcare to 3 percent of GDP by financial year 2023-24.
- NYAY SCHEME:
"Gareebi pe vaar, 72 hazaar," is the slogan that announces the flagship scheme of the Congress, which has already attracted much attention on both sides. This minimum income support scheme (MISP) aims to provide Rs 72,000 annually to 20% families in poorest of the poor category, benefiting around 5 crore families, or 25 crore people. The money will be deposited directly into the bank account, preferably of a female member of the family. According to the manifesto, "There will a be Design phase (3 months) followed by a Pilot and Testing phase (6-9 months) before roll-out of the scheme." With regards the expenditure, the manifesto says, "The estimated cost will be <1 per cent of GDP in Year 1 and <2 per cent of GDP in Year 2 and thereafter. As the nominal GDP grows and families move out of poverty, the cost will decline as a proportion of GDP." The party, led by Rahul Gandhi, promises to appoint an independent panel of eminent economists, social scientists and statisticians to oversee the design, testing, rollout and implementation of the programme.
K Raju, who handles Gandhi's office, told India Today, "Though 140 million people were pulled out of poverty between 2004 and 2014 (UPA rule), Rahul Gandhi felt MNREGA was not enough. He has been talking of a radical step for the past two years. NYAY is that step." According to the report on India Today, Rahul Gandhi, "based on his travel and conversations with the poor for over a decade", came to the assessment that every Indian household needed a minimum income of Rs 12,000 a month. Then, Rahul instructed the Congress research team to calculate the number of households with monthly income less than Rs 12,000. The team used data from National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the Socio-Economic Caste Census-2011 to put the number of such households at 50 million. From these data, the team calculated the average monthly income of these households to be Rs 6,000 - that is half of Gandhi's promised 12,000. The report tells us that Gandhi, then worked with former PM Dr Manmohan Singh, former finance minister P Chidambaram, and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh to devise resources to transfer the 6,000 rupees to these households.
While a Universal Basic Income is not an altogether new idea - Thomas Paine, one of the founding fathers of the USA developed the idea of UBI as far back as in 1796 - its implementation in India might see problems. Former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan told India Today that MIG, if implemented efficiently, could "change how things are run". However, he also cautioned that "the current fiscal situation is not conducive for such a high-expenditure programme." Professor Jayati Ghosh of JNU, also speaking to the magazine, said NYAY would be impossible to implement in itc current avatar. She said, "A pragmatic way to ensure minimum income would be to introduce and combine public health services and the universal right to work, say a 100-day work package for urban areas and for all adults."
If implemented well, UBI, or its Indian iteration of NYAY could result in the desired effects of raising millions of people out of poverty. Some form of UBI - although not at the scale of what the Congress proposes - has been implemented in several countries including France, US, Finland, Brazil, Pakistan, Turkey, Mexico, Philippines, among others, and the results have been encouraging. Implementation of a successful UBI plan could also give political dividends to the party responsible. As research on UBI in Pakistan, Brazil, and the Philippines has shown. According to Moizza Sarwar, senior researcher at the London-based Overseas Development Institute, who studied these three cash transfer programmes, "The political returns of a widespread pro-poor policy response to politicians in office were significant in consolidating the voter base in each of the three countries, and, in the case of Brazil, in expanding it."
The Bolsa scheme in Brazil has been credited with bringing about a 28% reduction in poverty; Finland's experience with UBI has demonstrated that such schemes had positive impacts on health and stress levels of unemployed youth. India is no stranger to small experiments in UBI herself. As India Today reported, "Two MIG pilot projects were conducted in MP, covering some 6,000 families between 2010 and 2013. The Unicef-funded Madhya Pradesh Unconditional Cash Transfer Project showed encouraging results even though the monthly cash transfer was only Rs 300 or less. The beneficiaries began to save more and use the money wisely, such as on education. This challenges the widely-held perception that cash transfers end up being used for questionable purposes, such as liquor."
The UBI was flagged as an alternative to social welfare programmes in the Economic Survey of 2016-17, which called the idea the shortest path to eliminating poverty. Suggesting a transfer of 7,620 rupees per annum to 75% of the country's population, the survey estimated that the expense of such a model of UBI would be to the tune of 4.9 per cent of India's GDP. In comparison, 5.2 per cent of GDP is spent on the 950 central and centrally sub-sponsored welfare schemes in India. That survey suggested abolishing or subsuming existing subsidies, Rahul Gandhi and his party do not want to do away with the existing welfare schemes to make space for NYAY. Which means, in addition to the 5.2% of the GDP that goes into welfare schemes, the exchequer needs to find additional money to fund the proposed NYAY scheme. Although that Congress insists that the total expenditure would be less than 2% of the GDP, the opposition and several non-partisan commentators have expressed their doubts about the feasibility and sustainability of the scheme.
There may be one way: the Paris-based World Inequality Lab, and psephologist and commentator Yogendra Yadav, have suggested a possible resource generator for the NYAY scheme could be taxing the super rich. WIL says NYAY can be financed by applying a 2 per cent tax on the total wealth on households with wealth over Rs 2.5 crore per annum (top 0.1 per cent of households), which will yield Rs 2.3 trillion.
While the MGNREGA or the farm loan waivers were aimed primarily at rural populations, the NYAY scheme will not be restricted to rural areas alone. In 2014, 80 per cent of the BJP's tally of 282 seats came from rural and semi-rural areas. For Congress, 32/44 were rural and semi rural areas. Five years hence, agrarian distress, high unemployment rates in both rural and urban areas, might have resulted in the BJP losing its grip on the Hindi heartland, which is home to a large share of the BJP's tally.Will NYAY be that scheme which will lure these voters the Congress way? We will find out on the 23rd of May.
- JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
"Our pledge is jobs, jobs, jobs," claims the manifesto. The party has announced it would ensure 34 lakh jobs in the public sector by:a. Filling all 4 lakh central government vacancies before March 2020.
b. Getting the state governments to fill their 20 lakh vacancies.
c. Creating an estimated 10 lakh new Seva Mitra positions in every gram panchayat and urban local body.In a bid to absorb young men and women who completed only a few years of schooling, the Congress has proposed to launch two major programmes to be implemented through Grama Sabhas and urban local bodies which, it says, will create 1 crore jobs. These are :
- Repair and restoration of water bodies (‘Water Bodies Restoration Mission’); and
- Regeneration and afforestation of wasteland and degraded land (‘Wasteland Regeneration Mission’).
The party also claims to increase private sector jobs by:
- Rewarding businesses for job creation and employing more women,
- Requiring businesses with over 100 employees to implement an apprenticeship programme.
The Congress has also promised to relaunch its flagship scheme MGNREGA 3.0 by guaranteeing employment for 150 days as against 100 days earlier. It has promised a new Ministry of Industry, Services and Employment in order to underline the link between the growth of the industry and services sectors and rapid creation of jobs. The Congress has also promised that application fees for government examination and government posts will be abolished."The Congress party promises "regulatory forbearance" for Micro and Small Enterprises. They will be exempt from all applicable laws and regulations (except the Minimum Wages Act and tax laws) for a period of 3 years from 1 April 2019 or, in the case of new businesses, the date of commencement of business. This means freedom from 'Inspector Raj' until they stabilise," the manifesto said.
- FARMER WELFARE: KARZ MAAFI TO KARZ MUKTI
Farmers have had a tough go in the past few years - sinking prices, loan distress, and a dwindling work force interested in farming, have all contributed to the sector facing some of its toughest times in recent memory. The Congress accused the NDA government of driving the agriculture sector into a deep crisis through its demonetisation and crop insurance schemes. The Karz Mukti that the Congress promises will be through remunerative prices, lower input costs, and assured access to institutional credit.
In order to ensure priority to the issues of the farming sector, the party will present a separate 'Kisan Budget,' along the lines of the railway budget. A permanent National Commission on Agricultural Development and Planning has also been promised. consisting of farmers, agricultural scientists and agricultural economists to examine and advise the government on how to make agriculture viable, competitive and remunerative.
The other big announcement related to the sector was that if farmers are unable to repay the loans, it will be treated as a civil offence and not a criminal offence. Addressing the media, Rahul Gandhi said, "Anil Ambanis and Mehul Choksis steal from banks and run away. Farmers are honest, when they take bank loans and fail to repay them, they are thrown in jail. We will not regard farmers' loan defaults as criminal offences any more, but will see them as a civil offence now."
The party also promises to double the funding in 5 years for teaching, R&D, agriculture-related pure sciences and applied science and technology in the agricultural sector.The party also promises to emulate its actions in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where it waived farm loans, in all other states of the country as well. How these sops will add up in addition to the welfare schemes and NYAY, is anyone's guess.
Promising to double the country's expenditure on healthcare to 3 per cent of GDP by 2023-24, the manifesto goes on to further promise to enact the Right to Healthcare Act and guarantee every citizen free diagnostics, out-patient care, free medicines and hospitalisation, through a network of public hospitals and enlisted private hospitals. While the government's Ayushman Bharat scheme heavily relies on the participation of private hospitals, which are the majority care providers in the country, the Congress makes a distinct departure, claiming, "We are of the firm belief that the insurance-based model cannot be the preferred model to provide universal healthcare in our country. Congress promises to vigorously promote and implement the free public hospitals-model to provide universal healthcare." During the press conference, Rahul Gandhi said the health scheme introduced by the government has largely been about taking more money from people and putting it into the pockets of private insurance players.
The party has also promised to substantially expand the free Dial-an-Ambulance service and put on the road more ambulances in all the districts of India. India’s current doctor to population ratio is 1:1681 and government doctor to population ratio is 1:11,528. Congress promises to increase the number of doctors, including specialist doctors, significantly by establishing more medical colleges, increasing the capacity of medical colleges and providing scholarships and loans to medical students.Importantly, the Congress promises to implement the National Mental Health Policy, 2014 and the Mental Health Care Act, 2017 in letter and spirit. "We will ensure that mental healthcare professionals are appointed in all public district hospitals and that mental healthcare services are provided in such hospitals," the manifesto said, addressing what is already a massive public health issue that the country and its administration refuse to pay the required attention to.
School education from Class I to Class XII in public schools shall be compulsory and free, the manifesto said. The party will ensure that schools have adequate infrastructure and qualified teachers. To achieve this, the allocation for education will be doubled to 6 per cent of GDP by 2023-24.Significantly, the manifesto addressed the NEET issue. It said, "The NEET examination is discriminatory against students from certain States. In addition, it interferes with the State Government’s right to admit students domiciled in the State to medical colleges in that State. Hence, we will take measures to dispense with the NEET examination and substitute it with a State-level examination of equivalent standard, approved by the competent authority for admission to medical colleges in that State." One of the most vociferous demands of the opposition in Tamil Nadu is the scrapping of NEET. Not a coincidence that the Congress's ally DMK also promised the abolition of NEET in its manifesto.